The intersection of progressive education and athletic coaching

I had an odd moment this morning while I was running around in the cold moving the car.  I was walking back from having parked too far away from my building.  As I am prone to doing, I started kind of talking to myself.  The topic this morning was thinking about what I’ll say at the end of the year athletics banquet when I have to get up and give the remarks about this year’s season with my girl’s soccer team.  I started thinking (talking about) the challenges I faced, the girls I have on the team, and how we made it through another season by accomplishing things together.  But my area of focus the longer I talked (it was a long walk) was the challenge I faced trying to mesh my ideals as a progressive educator and my ideas of what it means to be a soccer coach.

When it comes to soccer I come from, but am not necessarily married to, a bit of the old school.  When coach speaks, you act.  Practice is priority one, and is not to be missed.  Being a part of the team takes precedence in all the best ways.  There is no question about effort level: always the max.  Teammates are like family.

This list, and more, are what drove me in competitive sports growing up, and to some degree still do.  I believe that competitive sports offer something that few other things can, and in a way are a microcosm of real life cause-and-effect that few other settings can replicate as accurately.  The ball will do what the ball’s going to do.

And this is increasingly true as we struggle to figure out what it means to educate and develop a human being.  I feel like people used to see education as a more black and white issue.  Students were buckets, and teachers filled them.  And discipline and conformity were job one for the student.  As we have learned that those things might not be as true as we thought, especially for the changing world, the world of “school” is trying to adapt and change.  Students now are growing up in a very different world than the one their grandparents and even parents did.  I’m sure this is true of most generations to some degree, but the ideals I mentioned for sports are some that aren’t being gotten in the same ways as they were when I was in school.  Of course, this may all just be one aging man’s perspective, but I don’t see as much overlap as I did when I was in high school and college and at the peak of my school/sports crossover.  The attitudes of students/players aren’t the same as the ones I encountered then.  Both school and sports seem to be more of an afterthought to them.  I’m not saying this is all bad, mind you.  I think my players are more well-rounded as human beings and much more independent thinkers than we were as student athletes.  It’s just different.

But I think that emphasizes the importance of each arena separately now.  School offers something different than the sports team, and vice versa.  There are differences that I, even as someone who has experience in both arenas, am just now learning.  Here are a few that I  have noted:

1) The concept of team – In the classroom we use cooperative learning, but the focus us still on individual outcomes.  Sport is one of the few areas where individual outcome is truly secondary.  Your role in a play lasts split seconds.  Your sum total role in a game will most likely be a tiny fraction of the minutes played.  Outcomes are judged almost solely on team achievements.

2) The physical nature – A physical action is different from a mental exercise.  There are many different ways to achieve the thought process behind many mathematical operations and still achieve the same outcome.  The perfect shot or pass has a narrow range of kinesthetic forgiveness to be correct.  Repetition and observation are vital to getting that right.  It’s not really a “do it whatever way makes sense” kind of thing.

3) The power to poison the well – Players are like apples: one truly bad one can destroy everything.  A player’s attitude and approach are everything, and they all have to be in synch to make a team hum.  In a classroom this is true to some degree, but you can remove a student from the environment and get back to work.  Individual outcomes are key after all.  But even a few weeks into practice, a team dynamic comes to rely on all the talents and personalities in it.  Even bench players have a massively important role in dynamic.  If you remove one player it sends waves of messages and losses that can affect the team, and it takes time to reestablish identity even if the move was for the best.

And so it is with these things in mind that I am trying to bring consistency to my approaches.  It wouldn’t make sense for me to do everything the same, no, especially not after having said what I did about the differences.  But at least a consistency of belief.  If I see them as independent thinkers and individuals in the whole sense, rather than just buckets to be filled, I can’t treat them that way in the classroom and then expect them to just be good little soldiers on the field.  “Do what your told” goes against my beliefs as a teacher, so it would be hypocritical of me to use that approach as their coach.  I’m still figuring it all out, but it was a big focus for me this season.  I’ve still got a lot more improvement to make, and a long way to go both as a teacher and a coach, but here’s a few things I’ve come up with.  These are a mix of similarities and differences that I think are all notable in making me the best, and most consistant, teacher/coach combo I can be:

1) High expectations in the class and on the field – Expectations do not determine pedagogy.  Just expecting a lot out of my students and my players doesn’t determine if I take a traditional approach or a progressive approach… authoritative or authoritarian.  The actual methodology can be many things, but expectation comes first, and must be clear.  I want my players to be giving maximum effort and taking maximum pride and benefit, the same way I want my students to.  I cannot and should not back off on expectation just because I’m afraid of drifting too far into an authoritarian approach.  Conversely, I cannot allow myself to be convinced that having high expectations is a sign of a traditional or authoritarian approach by outside sources.  That’s just good coaching…and good teaching.

2) When you have to achieve together, sometimes you have to fall in line – As I’ve pointed out, in the classroom the emphasis is on individual outcomes.  If a student’s group is sabotaging that individual’s ability to achieve, or if the group is poisonous to achievement over all, sometimes one student can either take that group on their back and do the lion’s share of the work, or they can withdraw and complete something that shows that they’re still achieving.  While the group won’t have been as successful, that one student will still succeed and learn.  An athletic team has to grow together, or not at all.  I can’t make the right run or the right pass, have everyone else do the wrong thing, and still wind up with a positive outcome.  Sometimes there are moments of individual brilliance that benefit the team: a great individual shot or dribble ending in a goal, a beautiful individual defensive play that saves an otherwise dragging squad, a heroic goalkeeping effort that turns a game on it’s head, but a team can’t achieve on the back of those kinds of moments alone.  Sometimes the MVP is what’s crippling the team.  In order to make any kind of growth and achievement as a team sometimes the individual needs or wants have to go by the wayside.  You may not feel like practicing today, but if you aren’t there then the dynamic for your team will be completely different then what you’ll see on game day.  The team can’t practice the right scenarios to grow.  In a classroom it’s individuals working at max capacity that makes a group strong, but you walk away with different individual levels of success.   Teams live and die by the team.  Individuals work at max capacity to make the team strong, but you walk away with the same outcomes.  The team has a right to ask your individuality to take a bit of a back seat where it doesn’t step on you as a person.

3) The experience factor – In both classroom and on pitch we who are in charge of the education of these young people are trying to develop them in the best way possible to be competent in what they do.  But we are coming at it from a perspective of vast experience in these fields.  I’m currently 32.  I’ve been playing soccer since I was 12.  That’s 20 years of experience and knowledge about this game.  When I’m dealing with a 15 year old player, or even an 18 year old player, it can be hard for me to realize that the concept I’m trying to teach them has developed in me over a long period of time.  They’re not going to get it to the same depth I have in that 2 hour training session, and probably not over the 8-10 week season either.  Possibly not even in the 4 seasons I’ll have most of them.  But it’s easy to get over zealous in trying to convey information.  It’s also easy to mistake mimicry for mastery.  i.e. – If they can make the good pass that splits the defense in practice those few times when I yelled at them to see it, they can now read the game and see it on their own, they’re looking for it and understand when to attempt it or not.   The same holds true in the classroom, but I think teachers tend to be way more patient than coaches.  I will give a student multiple classes, multiple weeks, sometimes even months, to demonstrate that they are starting to master a concept, and then it’s much easier (I feel) to keep in mind that they will continue to build on this their whole lives.  We’re trying to recreate for them, in both settings, our vast experience and expertise.  But you cannot create experience without patience.  Experience by it’s definition, by it’s very nature, takes time.  They go hand in hand.  And not surprisingly, it seems to go hand in hand with failure as well, and I mean that in the best possible way.  Failure is an important part of experience, which is the best teacher.  In the classroom this is easy to set up and understand.  On the field less so because we are waiting for things to click.  When they don’t it can be frustrating because it means more repetition, and that’s hard on our attention spans.

Good coaching, I think, balances repetition and focus.  And doing that, while respecting your individuals but getting them to fall in with the team’s objectives, and holding everyone to a high standard, is the essence and beginning, I believe, of being both a progressive educator and an athletic coach.

If you stumble across this and happen to have read this far, please please feel free to comment and give me your thoughts on this subject that I’m immensely interested in and yet still seeking my own thoughts and best practice on.  I am open and interested in all view points on both education and coaching.


Abandonment issues

Every once in a while I’ll cruise over here and contemplate writing again.  I look up and down the page, wax nostalgic about the things I’ve said, try to imagine what to write here that shouldn’t go on one of the other blogs I write.  I’ll ponder the possibility of taking it down or merging it with another blog.  But you know, I think this has become more like a journal than a blog.  I know it’s public, so it’s possible for anyone to read in a way that a journal isn’t, but it’s comforting to know that this little corner contemplative space is still here for me.  It feels like a place where I can say much more than in other blogs.  I can talk about how annoying some aspects of the local music scene are more than I could on my band blog…gotta play nice.  I can talk about how things are personally for me in certain aspects of my life…can’t put that on the other single-purpose blogs.  Anyway, I’m done with this thought for now because I find myself writing all too often about how I feel I don’t have as much time to write as I’d like, or using writing to create justifications for writing…awesome.

In which I respond to a quote that implies humanity’s fate…

This quote is taken from The Universe Story : From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era–A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos by Brian Swimme, which is not a great book, but has it’s interesting points:

Pg 247 – “If the emergence of the Cenozoic in all it’s brilliance was independent of any human influence, almost every phase of the Ecozoic will involve the human.  While the human cannot make a blade of grass, there is liable not to be a blade of grass unless it is accepted, protected, and fostered by the human.”

See what we have gotten ourselves into by not paying attention all along?  We thought it was all never-ending and we never thought long term.  Now, because of that short sightedness in our past, our future will take the turn of us being constant stewards, with no choice.  But the really disturbing thing is that WE won’t be doing it…we’ll be leaving it for our kids to do.  Maybe that’s why humanity as a whole is short sighted and doesn’t often learn from its mistakes.  Maybe that’s why history is doomed to repeat itself…our short life spans combined with our seeming inability to learn from anyone else’s mistakes other than our own.  We as a race have adopted on an individual level an attitude of  not wanting to be told what or how to do anything by anyone who isn’t “allowed,” anyone who isn’t in our inner circle.  And we don’t always accept that advice either.  If we can’t accept our parent’s admonishments over keeping a clean room, how can we learn from the mistakes of those long dead?  I’m not suggesting that all admonishments should be listened to, but the very thought of being admonished turns most people into the discussion equivalent of a brick wall.  We lose the idea for the words.  Well, we as a race are missing the forest for the trees, and pretty soon we won’t have any of those left.  We’ve also adopted the attitude that we won’t do anything about negative situations until the consequences are upon us.  We are a terribly un-proactive species.  And due to all of this, we will be forced in the future to circle up around those things that we love to see them through, but we’ll have to hand that job off to someone who doesn’t remember when there was more, who doesn’t have the appreciation.  Where will the crack in the chain develop?  Can a system like that hold up forever?

The really sick thing about this line of thinking is that when we form our circle around the last tree…what do you think will be in the distance?  What will the face of the mysterious enemy that we are circling up to repel look like?  Why, it’ll be human of course.  And thus, the civil struggle will continue until the very end until our race is but two brothers on a hilltop.  Only this time, instead of founding Rome, they will stand with rocks in their hands ready to bash each other’s brains out because one tries to protect something, and the other wants to use it to some end.

My new favorite chemical…The Black Parade

The age of the MP3 has been heralded as the downfall of the album as an art form. Used prominently by bands like Pink Floyd, The Who, and many others, the album in it’s entirety as a complete statement has suffered a fracturing as music lovers have been able to buy singles more easily online in recent times. It has even changed the way that record companies do business now as some bands are signed for just one or two songs at first, with more to come if those few singles sell well. But, as with the doom-sayers that are forced out of the woodwork with every new advance in everything, those who bemoan this need to be taken with a grain of salt…the death of the album may have been greatly exaggerated.

I suspect that the more successful bands who are so artistically inclined have been freed up to consider the album format more fully as that is no longer the norm. And, since it is no longer standard practice, since we have almost in fact returned to the days of Sinatra and Motown where albums were one or two singles carefully crafted and then filled out with covers or songs slapped together to fill space, when a band utilizes that format well it stands out all the more.

I recently (I apologize for being behind, but it was given to me) listened to My Chemical Romance’s October 2006 release The Black Parade, and I believe that this album stands alone in recent music as a phenomenal work. In my humble opinion, this album is artistically and musically a work of inspired genius from the opening of the first track to the end of the hidden track.

A large part of the drawing power the album holds can be attributed to the fact that the band’s frontman, Gerrard Way, is developing into one of the best impassioned singers of the current commercial musical scene. What Issac Brock does for Modest Mouse and Axel Rose did for Guns and Roses, Way does for MCR and his talents are on full display on The Black Parade. Way’s best track is quite possibly “Mama”, the album’s eclectic and large scale ninth track, but he also lets loose in “House of Wolves” and his vocal and emotional range are prevalent throughout the album.

Instrumentally, MCR take risks throughout that pay dividends in both technical aspects and song structure. Bob Bryar’s drums throughout are a high point of the album. Anyone who pays attention to the back beat in the music will want to give this album a listen. Bryar ventures away from the traditional rock beats in a lot of places on the album to make the drums stand up as a fronting instrument, while at the same time working well with Mikey Way’s bass lines to hold the songs together. Although, I must say, I found it difficult to point out a place in the album where the bass really stood out (or was even specifically audible). The guitars are well done as Ray Toro and Frank Iero have not only strayed from traditional riff-rock, but have dared to channel some of their guitar heroes to bring the songs to a level above a lot of current radio rock singles. In several sections the distorted guitar has the well-produced sheen of modern rock and stadiums rather than the dirtier sound associated with the nostalgic concept of “rock and roll” (this is especially noticeable in the fifth track “Welcome to the Black Parade”), but this does not detract from the songs as the band seemed to be channeling acts like Queen, Pink Floyd, and other stadium sized acts.

Coming from a band that has been disputably labeled “emo” (a dubious label to apply to any band these days given the connotations it has developed) this album shows a giant leap forward from their last album, which was pretty damn good in it’s own right, and shows us that the power of the album is still out there to be seized by those who have the will. It also makes My Chemical Romance a band worth following to see just what they’ll do next.

Best Track(s): Mama, Teenagers, Famous Last Words

My Chemical Romance official website

My Chemical Romance on Wikipedia

In which I run across the issue of polarization…again

This morning, as I’m home for the first day of spring break, I picked up an old copy of the Washington Post that I had bought a little over a week ago while on a trip with my students. I never ended up getting a chance to read over it, and decided to just sort of pick through it. I like to read the opinion page because I like to see what those with some authority at the paper are thinking. What should I see but an editorial about entrenched incumbency and it’s role in creating polarization on tough issues. As anyone who has scrolled through my few blog postings up to this point will have noticed…this is something I have begun to harp on lately. It’s everywhere! I know I’m not the first to notice it or even bemoan it’s effect on our society, but I’m always proud to add to that chorus. The fact that we now have a congress whose collective minds are made based on how ideologically pure they stay to their party ideals is a poison…nothing less. It means that instead of being loyal to us, the citizens and voters, they are loyal to some conceptual Big Brother created by those party leaders who are looking to root out moderates and others who wouldn’t tow the party line as flamboyantly as they would like. It means that decisions are being made, not by those we elect, but by ideologues that are back at party headquarters deciding what it means to be Republican or Democrat. It means that Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter (every time I say their names now it’s almost like welcoming back an old friend) are making decisions in the legislative branch, because anyone who crosses party lines on an issue or who dares try to mediate a compromise will be decried a party traitor. Now I have no love for our current crop of Republicans, and I’m not planning on supporting John McCain, but I find abhorrent the reactions of Rush Limbaugh toward the candidate of HIS OWN PARTY for the presidential nomination. He said that he betrayed conservative principles (not Mr. Limbaugh’s words, but his sentiment), and even jokingly backed both Hillary and Obama rather than McCain. And he’s not the only one. This venom is being splashed from some who seem to revel in the polarization of our process. David Limbaugh, a nationally syndicated columnist, wrote about some of the responses he recieved for his willingness to support McCain as the Republican nominee in an article for the Washington Times. One response read as follows:“For me to cast a vote for [Mr. McCain] at this time is totally unthinkable. I would have to don from head to toe our surgical isolation gear with heavy gloves and boots and wear a gas mask, too, and carry my ballot over to the ballot box by a pair of tongs. Then I would have to hurry home to shower off in the hottest of water and then douse myself with bleach. … And I say this knowing that McLame is (supposedly) more conservative than Obama or Hillary.”All of this may possibly be the cause, or maybe at least in part cause, for the interesting turn that McCain has been making as we near the elections. Limbaugh (the David one) goes on to mention some of these conservative inconsistencies in Mr. McCain’s messages. McCain says he’ll extend the tax cuts passed by Pres. Bush although he “vigorously opposed them initially.” He seems to be giving lip-service to the conservative side of the immigration issue by saying he’ll protect the border although he favors amnesty for 20 million people who are considered illegals. There are other examples, but I feel like I may be getting a bit off topic. It’s the idea that this polarization is necesary for American politics that upsets me. It’s the idea that to support someone who isn’t the candidate incarnate of the party’s every ideal is a betrayal of the country somehow that makes me boil. I hate to burst their bubble, but America is bigger than either of their little political parties. I realize that we’ve been taken over by the two main parties and that most politics run through either the House of Republican or the House of Democrat, but we must realize that our government wouldn’t collapse without them…they just happen to be in the spotlight right now. In the grand scheme of things political parties come and go, and until we get back to politics as a way of supporting and helping our lives and away from politics as a way of proping up these political parties, who can be just as much hives of extremest political ideals as some terrorist organizations are hives of religious ideals, we will be a country trapped at the poles of discourse.

For some more food for thought, and some nicely written thoughts on balance, read this blog post by LeoPardus.

The impossible “dream-ticket” and my conversation on polarization

Today’s post has one branch of it’s roots in a blog post I read this morning called “Obama Calls Out the Silliness of VP Idea”. I’ve been saying for months now that I had hoped that when all was said and done that whoever received the nomination would then turn around and ask the other to be VP because I felt that, underneath it all, they actually complimented each other a bit (although I admit I was secretly hoping it would be Obama asking Hillary). I’m aware that it was, at best, just a bit of wishful thinking and, at worst, probably even extremely naive…but I felt that it could have worked. But that was before Hillary went negative. Her constant attacks, via commercials and statements made about his voting record, his experience, his tactics, and more (relating him to both Karl Rove and Ken Starr at two separate points), have created a divide in their party, and even a situation in which Obama felt compelled to travel down the dark path of negativity himself, calling for her tax records to be released and then inviting public scrutiny when they weren’t. Although I feel I must say here (thanks to blogger seethirty for calling me on blaming Hillary exclusively in one of my responses to a post of his) that Obama is an adult and is completely capable of staying away from negative campaigning, even if just for the political reason of staying on message. But to give credit where credit is due, it was Hillary that fired the first shot in an extremely thinly veiled attempt to slow Obama’s progress in the primaries. I get the feeling that the attacks have less to do with her own reservations about his preparedness, or even her concern for the country should Obama win…she’s just trying to slow him down ’cause she wants to win. While that may be a “duh” moment for everyone else in this country…to me and any other realist-idealist, knowing it doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck. Makes me a little wary of her.But the larger issue is that all of this negativity has now made even the possibility of this “dream-ticket” impossible. In responding to the originally mentioned post I made the comment:“I agree that it is very backward for either of them really to be calling to the other to back down and be the VP…they haven’t left much room for that to be considered a genuine option…after the negative campaigning, how are we as voters supposed to believe that the offer is honest, and that they believe in each other to do the job? How could we as voters see it as anything other than a complete political move based entirely on gaining votes? “I’m upset that what could have potentially been a balanced ticket isn’t even an option any more because of the campaigns run by the candidates. Nancy Pelosi, speaking New England Cable News reporter (linked here to the story in the CNN Political Ticker), said that the possibility had basically become a non-issue. And, although she cites a specific instance where Hillary commented that even “Senator McCain would be a better commander-in-Chief than Obama,” I think it runs further back than that. I think the chasm created in the Democrats of the country and the prying at the chasm that has been done by both campaigns has all led up to the situation where we now stand. No matter who wins the nomination I believe we stand to lose a potentially powerful combination in the White House over the next four years because of the in-fighting going on for the Democratic nomination. I can’t think of stronger candidates for the VP for either candidate, short of Al Gore coming back to serve another 4 years in that role. But, I guess that doesn’t really matter, because there’s no way, after all this primary season has seen, that they could pull together on a ticket and have us trust them together…(If you hadn’t read or heard anything about this latest uproar, here is a link to the NY Times article on it, and here is the story in Washinton Times…take your preference.To end today, I wanted to acknowledge a conversation I’ve had over the course of the day (man, you’d think I don’t have to work like the rest of the world) with one of the blogger’s whose post I cited in my last post from March 10th about polarization. The gentleman (“Ed Darrell” – I’m assuming that’s his real name) commented back to me that, although I had taken his use of the word “hysterical” to mean one thing, he had actually meant something different:“Noting and refusing the sexist implications from the word’s origin, “hysteria” generally means a neurosis characterized by calm periods interrupted by periods of “hallucination, somnambulism, amnesia or other mental aberration.” A second definition offered by The American Heritage Dictionary is “excessive or uncontrollable fear or other strong emotion.”I think that accurately describes Crichton’s flight from reason here. If he thinks DDT is not harmful and deadly, if he thinks Carson’s work not top notch and accurate, if he thinks DDT an easy and cheap answer to malaria, he’s hallucinating. He may look calm, but he’s hallucinating.”I just wanted to give him credit here in the blog continuum for his intention. By his intended definition, “hysterical” could be an acceptable word to use. And, although I did point out that the intended definition isn’t always the one taken by the reader (as evidenced by both my original response and subsequent post on my blog, and the original response from a user calling himself only “George”), and that we must be careful of our word selection, I think it only fair to stand at least somewhat corrected due to my using his blog posting as an example of polarization. The lesson here is that polarization is so common that these mistakes can happen for that alone. Part of the reason that I used his blog as an example was that I had, immediately prior to reading it, just read the other post I used as an example and found myself in that frame of mind. Ed’s fault? Certainly not. But I believe this polarization to be a growing trend propagated by select media sources and our current political climate coming down from the top. Not everyone has the opportunity to have the enlightening conversation about a writer’s exact intent when reading something and that’s why we have to be careful. If we truly want to propagate honest and open debate and discourse we have to be aware of exactly how we are saying things and making our points. Ed, thank you for your handling of our exchange. You have added just a little bit more meaningful communication to the world.

currently reading:

World War Z by Max Brooks

currently listening to:

going old-school with Incubus’s 1999 break-through album Make Yourself

The science of black and white…

We are moving towards the far ends of the spectrum. Over the past 6-8 years especially we have become increasingly polarized across the board on every major issue…especially here in the United States. Maybe I’m just too young to remember polarization of issues in the just-out-of-recent past, but it seems to me that polarization is a problem in every major issue I hear about. You’re either a skeptic or a fundamentalist-nut every time you open your mouth these days. I came across this post as I made my rounds through the blogs today. Now, (because I always try to give full disclosure) I believe that climate change is happening and we are causing it. BUT, I also believe in healthy debate and people forming their own opinions. I’m totally fine if someone doesn’t believe that we are effecting the atmosphere enough to be causing this, or if they feel that this is a cyclical process (not that I’m not passionate about what I believe, mind you…the point of debate after all is to convince). I don’t mind being disagreed with. But this post is a classic example of polarization. By addressing, not the issue of climate change itself but whether people who agree with it have turned it into a religion, you have now made anyone who says contrary sound like they are proving you right. You have taken away the chance for real honest debate. Want proof? Look at the responses. The first post doesn’t even argue the climate change position either. He makes a rather rational statement (passed on from someone he admired) that, even if we’re not effecting climate change, does it really hurt to take care of our planet? Now, scroll down to the 4th response (from someone with the name “papertiger”). This response states that there’s “[n]othing like having the first commenter inadvertently confirm the thesis of your post.” First off, I fail to see how the response from “Chris” actually confirmed any “thesis” (if you can call writing four sentences, a failed attempt at wit, and posting seven links to other people’s work a “thesis”) of people who agree we are affecting climate change turning it into a religion. He passed on a philosophical point of view, nothing more. No impassioned pleas, no insults, no climate change science. There were plenty of people who added those things in later, but not in this particular exchange. Second, (and this is actually kinda related to the first) by expressing this opinion-point and then inviting others to comment on it, the post-er has now polarized everyone who responds into those who agree with him and those who will be dismissed as having succumbed to the “religion”. The blogger here posted on the end of the discussion (at least the end when I found it) and said he just “disagree that man is the cause” of climate change, but his posts to begin with created an environment where the discussion could only be impassioned on both sides and turn to more than just the facts of the scenario (aka – get ugly), as blog responses so often do.For another example of this polarization, read this post about Michael Crichton and DDT. While I happen to agree with the blogger about DDT and the facts surrounding the issue, the writer has written in such a way as to polarize the issue (i.e.- using the word “hysterical”). I just see this so much in the discussion (as mentioned in the context of liberals and conservatives in my “Who knew Vermont had the balls” post) surrounding any issue. If you’re not in complete agreeance with one side, you must be the enemy, and therefore berated instead of reasoned with.You know who I blame…(surprise surprise) the current administration. They have set the standard across the country by polarizing people into “patriotic” or “terrorist sympathizers”. They’ve even added the category of “evil-doers”. I also blame Anne Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and most everyone who works for Fox, but they are prospering because of the atmosphere of acceptance given to this sort of discourse by Bush, Cheney, and they’re cronies.

In which I read the Washinton Post editorial page and come out 50/50

I wasn’t going to write today because I really didn’t have much to talk about (or nothing that I thought was worthwhile anyway, which some people have a problem with…but that’s a whole other blog), but I ended up reading the newspaper after school today.  I don’t necessarily have a preferred paper unless you count “on the floor and open” as a preference. Anyway, I started out with out an article on the Texas Democratic caucuses in today’s Post, and after reading it I just kept flipping through the paper until I’d come to the editorial page. Well, I’d have to say they went 1-1-1 for this issue.

It took me a minute and a phone call to the Post after reading the three editorials, but I found out that the editorials for the Washington Post are written by an “editorial board.” This committee apparently meets, led by Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor, and Jackson Diehl, the deputy editorial page editor, and includes about seven other writers. They decide upon the position and write the editorial. Is this normal? Personally I actually like the practice, but I always had the image of editorials being written by some opinionated J. Jonah Jameson type. Eh…you live and learn (and lose your delusions of Spider-Man comics as real life in the process).

Anyway, the first editorial didn’t really make me feel one way or the other (something about…something. Political I think.), but the second one was great. The second editorial was about our legislative body finally showing some chutzpah and actually helping (mark this day on your calendar folks!) average American citizens hold the government accountable! Apparently (but certainly not surprisingly) citizens have been suing the Bush administration over violations of civil liberties, related to spying and other wonders brought to us by the Patriot Act, but getting no where. In most of these cases the administration withholds evidence by claiming it’s a matter of national security, and the case is tossed, and the baby of the civil liberty question goes out with the executive privilege bathwater. But a new bill introduced in the Senate aims to allow the civil liberty questions to be addressed without compromising national security by putting sensitive information in the public square. To read more specifics about it you can read the whole editorial here (you will be asked to sign in or sign up to the Post online). I think something like this is ABOUT FREAKIN’ TIME! During the past seven years there has been far too much secrecy and loss of civil liberties in the name of national security, and not nearly enough protection left over for us the people. In her book, Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America, Molly Ivans makes the point that taking away our freedoms can never make us safer…it only makes us less free! I’m not saying that I think the President doesn’t have to make some difficult decisions, or that we the people don’t need to recognize that tough decisions need to be made, when it comes to issues of our country, but there is no way that those making these decisions right now are actually thinking about average Joe American…we have been left out of the loop. Too much of what has been claimed under the banner of Sept. 11th feels like power grabbing to pass the smell test. This feels like a good thing. I’m rooting for this one. If it works it will allow protecting civil liberties to become important again.

The last editorial actually gets my goat…the whole goat. Apparently Virginia is attempting to be the first state to get out from under the unrealistic and harmful expectations of the No Child Left Behind law. I am a teacher. I have taught in both a private school setting and a setting where No Child Left Behind ruled the roost. As someone who is a practitioner of this education thing…NCLB is a bad thing!  While I agree with the idea of accountability and giving students and families in failing schools options (believe it or not, I’m all for what’s best for the student) this law is a horrible execution of this goal.  If you want more specifics as to exactly how bad NCLB is and how detrimental to it’s own stated goals and education as a whole I’ll post on that later, but I just want to hit some of the editorial’s high points here and now:

1) “Most notable was its ill-advised rebellion over the testing of children with limited English proficiency.”

Please allow me to shed a little light on why they may have been in a tizzy about testing children with limited English proficiency.  In most cases tests are not administered in the language the students are proficient in…they’re administered in English!  How fair is it to give a student who has difficulties with English an English version of a math test and then say they don’t know math when they fail it?  Or, even worse, an English version of an English test?  The NCLB law has very few provisions for students outside the norm.  This creates difficulties when dealing with students who have exceptionalities…take it from me: every student learns differently and NCLB doesn’t even begin to address that in an appropriate fashion.

2) “…but the reluctance to hold all students to the same standards says much about why No Child Left Behind is needed.”

The idea of holding all students to the same standard is exactly one of the major flaws of NCLB.  I work in a school that is designed to serve high-functioning students with learning disabilities.  To hold every student to the same standard, regardless of learning style, learning disability, language proficiency, or any one of a hundred other factors involved in learning and educating a person is asinine and blind.  Different students who don’t have learning disabilities have to deal with difficulties based on learning style, not to mention the difficulties created for students who are ADHD, dyslexic, dis graphic, have various anxiety disorders, have reading difficulties, on the autism spectrum, and much more.  NCLB is completely out of touch with the realities of our diverse population of students across this nation of ours.

3) “In passing the measures, lawmakers talked about sending a message to Washington.  Too bad it’s one that ignores the interest of children.”

When are we as a population going to realize that if you want to accurately test the effectiveness of something you have to go to the source?  If I want to know how the fishing is, I’m gonna talk to a fisherman.  If I want to know about my health, I go to a doctor.  If you want to know about education, talk to a teacher.  Not a lawmaker or a journalist or a blacksmith…a teacher.  When teacher’s unions and school boards are against something and the only ones for it are the people who want accountability but don’t know how (and the textbook companies who are making a fortune in test-specific materials off this law) that should be a red flag.

The only thing I agree with in the editorial is that by opting out of of NCLB Virginia risks loosing up to $300 million for it’s schools.  That’s a lot of money for the children of Virginia to loose access to.  It is so much that it’s certain to be an almost immediate, negative impact to the school systems.  But if Virginia is able to pull the band-aid off quickly and figure out how to make it work then other states may follow.  We may then be forced to really take an honest look at how to achieve accountability that is honest and reliable without patching it over with standardized tests and a musical chairs of administrators that NCLB causes.