Saturday, March 28, 2009

On Throwing Money at the Problem

"To give away money is an easy matter ... and in any man's power. But to decide to whom to give it, and how large and when, for what purpose and how, is neither in every man's power nor an easy matter. Hence it is that such excellence is rare, praiseworthy and noble."
- Aristotle

Was Aristotle ever wrong?

In 1993 Walter H. Annenberg made a $500 million gift to public school education in the U.S. At the time, a 30-year veteran of the Detroit school district said the money would make no difference. He was right. Here’s the word from a year 2000 analysis listed by ERIC (Educational Resources Information Center): “…these grants did not accomplish more…because the idea on which they were based, that public schools lack expertise and that talented and motivated outsiders working with the system can provide it, is wrong.”

And alas, equally wrong is to expect school systems themselves to change (quod erat demonstrandum, I believe, in the video “Stupid in America.” For more on that, see my March 24 post, "Dumb as Dirt," below).

Barack Obama came to the presidency promising education reform, and he continues to promise it. Yet “reform” is in the eye of the beholder, and the beholders President Obama seeks to please or appease are the leadership of the National Education Association and education school gurus. Take a minute here to read the response of Kevin Ryan, professor emeritus at Boston University, to the president’s plan on Mercatornet, an ezine that you would do well to bookmark: And indulge me and read also my comment to Ryan’s piece.

Now when that wise Detroit teacher predicted Walter Annenberg’s philanthropy would be wasted, he said further that, from his experience, three things are necessary for learning: a [good] teacher, a blackboard, and willing students. The easiest of these to provide is the blackboard.

A 2007-2008 survey of new school costs in Virginia ( pegged these as averaging $20,554 per pupil in elementary school; $36,701 per middle school pupil, and $26,776 per high school student. And of course there is a costly yearly maintenance budget for facilities.

Contrast these expenditures with the cost of charter school facilities, often housed in rented store fronts or closed public schools. In Oakland, CA, Ben Chavis took over a Native American charter middle school, housed in an old church, and doubled student achievement (listen to an NPR report, While stressing academics, Chavis required students to work. He didn’t hire maintenance staff; he had his kids clean up hallways and set up tables for lunch etc. Lacking a gymnasium, his students took timed jogs around the block.

There really is not a direct relationship between the cost of an education, the money spent per pupil, and the quality of learning. Last April, Andrew J. Coulson of the Cato Institute pointed out that the annual per pupil cost in the abysmal District of Columbia public school district (about $24,600 per pupil) exceeds the average tuition cost of private schools in the area by about $10,000. Go to to check this out.

And then there is Kansas City, and the saga of how not to spend money. The following comes from a Cato Institute policy analysis,

“In 1985 a federal district judge took partial control over the troubled Kansas City, Missouri, School District (KCMSD) on the grounds that it was an unconstitutionally segregated district with dilapidated facilities and students who performed poorly. In an effort to bring the district into compliance with his liberal interpretation of federal law, the judge ordered the state and district to spend nearly $2 billion over the next 12 years to build new schools, integrate classrooms, and bring student test scores up to national norms.

“It didn't work. When the judge, in March 1997, finally agreed to let the state stop making desegregation payments to the district after 1999, there was little to show for all the money spent. Although the students enjoyed perhaps the best school facilities in the country, the percentage of black students in the largely black district had continued to increase, black students' achievement hadn't improved at all, and the black-white achievement gap was unchanged.”

And doubtless the Kansas City School Board was amazed to realize amenities such as an Olympic size swimming pool do not increase learning. Spending money foolishly on new and “up-to-date” school facilities is, to paraphrase Aristotle, as easy as passing a school bond issue (even it if takes a few election rounds to get approval), but it doesn’t guarantee money well spent. Most American public schools have more than adequate physical facilities, but most do a poor to mediocre job of fostering learning. The old one room school house with a blackboard and a minimal play yard did as well or better. One reason may well have been dedicated teachers, which will be the subject of a later post.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Please Don't Offend Me

On puncturing the diversity balloon, Caroline Glick writes from Jerusalem: This is a warning to Western "tolerance": communities need shared values.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Words of Wisdom, Excellently Spoken!

Here Daniel Hannan, MEP, addresses UK prime minister Gordon Brown at a session of the European parliament. Do you, like me, long for such eloquent plain talk in D.C.?

Sing a Song of Hubris

This is a little outdated, perhaps, but just too good not to post:

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dumber than Dirt

In January 2006, ABC news editor and 20/20 co-anchor John Stossel produced "Stupid in America," which could easily be retitled "Dumber than Dirt." Well, if not dirt, certainly American school kids appear dumber than those in Belgium (and in truth a whole host of other countries) in this video.

Still, the problem isn't, largely, with the kids, and it's not caused by a shortage of money and--note to the Federal Reserve-- won't be cured by printing more do-re-mi. The problem is American public schools themselves. Stossel finds many that stink. Most others smell but a little less noxiously.

I know, I know...your kids' schools are pretty good. Most Americans believe this. But your kids' schools are with rare exception at best mediocre, and some are truly horrible. If you don't believe this, your assignment is to watch the 20/20 video: . This will take you approximately 41 minutes during which time your mouth will fly open in horror.

Do this so we can have a discussion of public school K-12 education in America. Do this because you really owe it to your kids and grandkids and all American kids to rescue their education from the ed school hacks, the status quo, the ineptitude that pervades school districts today.

And when you are done, watch this one minute video,"Grandmas [bless them] for Charter Schools": (

Now take a look at some examples of KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) charter schools: "Making Schools Work" Part 1 ( and Part 2 ( , both 7 minutes, and "KIPP Bay Area Schools" (, 5 minutes.

Now you are ready to begin a discussion of K-12 education in America...more later.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Don't Say "WOT" You Mean

John Ray, blogging at Tongue Tied 3 (, points out the Obama administration's continuing efforts to disassociate itself from its Bush predecessors--linguistically. The expression "Enemy combatants" has been disposed of or at least changed; these are now, according to Andy Worthington of the liberal AlterNet (, "Nobodies formerly known as 'Enemy Combatants' in the 'Current, Novel Type of Armed Conflict.'"

So much clearer, you will agree.

Now it's the "War on Terror" (WOT) itself that has to go. Writes Ray: "What's being sought is a more precise phrase that can recast the U.S. government's counterterrorism fight in ideological as well as military terms." He continues, "Obama publicly signaled the new approach this week. When asked about the "war on terror" phrase by CNN's Anderson Cooper, Obama said, 'Well you know [ouch!], I think it is very important for us to recognize that we have a battle or a war against some terrorist organizations. Words matter in this situation because one of the ways we're going to win this struggle is through the battle of hearts and minds.'" Yup.

And another way might be through superior military might and will.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Brilliant Sheep!

This comes from the great blogger, El Yanqui, who is now on sabbatical or a I guess he won't mind if I present it to you here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tales from Higher Education

Here's a content description of a course at Temple University in Philadelphia, entitled "Urban Society: 'Race,' Class, and Gender in the City" from Front Page ezine:

"Take Professor Melissa Gilbert, an Associate Professor of Geography at Temple University, whose course “Urban Society: ‘Race,’ Class, and Gender in the City” teaches students that gender and race are “social constructions” designed to oppress nonwhites and women; that American society is structurally “racist;” and that all whites are racist, sometimes unconsciously so (which is itself a racist claim). How this can be justified as an academic course, and how it relates to the professor’s professional credential, which is “geography,” remains shrouded in mystery – unless of course one accepts the perversion of academic studies as ideological propaganda."

You really should read the entire article at especially if you are paying a student's tuition at Temple (about $21,500 a year). And if you are not paying this, maybe you should mull federal subsidies for higher education.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

More Play Days!

Yesterday was another wonderful play day with Ione and Maddox: Ione her sweet, collected self, and Maddox the bundle of exuberance, softened by an hour of play outside riding his bike and scooter in wild circles around the patio and climbing an overhanging tree, followed by a walk with Grandpa and the unruly Cleo...leading to the sleep of the angels.

That's Akenna with Maddox, his incredibly tattoed accomplice in adventure.

And here's a must-see, time lapse video of another young guy, 9 months, at play. Who can keep up?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

This Didn't Happen According to the News

An important conference the mainstream media has never heard of ends today in New York. A featured speaker at the global warming skeptics conference, sponsored by the Heartland Institute, was straight talking Vaclav Klaus, president of the Czech Republic and current president of the European Union.

Reason magazine reported the irrepressible "Klaus confessed that he was puzzled by the environmentalist ideologues' approach to technological progress. They oppose the technological progress that free unregulated markets make possible....environmentalists want to mandate what they call clean technologies. 'They want to operate technologies that have only one defect; they have not been invented.'

"Klaus added, 'There is no known and economically feasible a way for an economy to survive on expensive unreliable clean green energy.'"

And do economies need to? Reason reported keynote speaker Richard Lindzen, a climatologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, indicates the answer is no: "Lindzen cited some of his own research that shows that heat radiating into space from the atmosphere is much greater than the [global warming] computer climate models were predicting.

"The idea behind greenhouse warming is that greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide emitted from burning fossil fuels tend to trap heat from the sun. As the atmosphere warms up it holds more water vapor and produces more high thin clouds which in turn inhibit the emission of heat radiation increasing the temperature even more. It is this positive feedback loop that produces ever higher global temperatures in the computer climate models.

"[However,] Lindzen said that satellite data show that increases in temperature lead to increased emissions of heat radiation out of the top of the atmosphere. If confirmed, this would mean that the earth's climate is 'dominated by stabilizing negative feedbacks rather than destabilizing positive feedbacks.'"

Still, shouldn't we act "just in case"? Dr. E. Calvin Beisner, national spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, and Roy Innis, CEO of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), don't believe so. quotes Dr. Beisner: "When the apostle Paul wrote [in] his epistle to the Galatians about his first meeting with the other apostles early in his ministry, he said 'They only asked us [Paul and his companions] to remember the poor, the very thing I also was eager to do.'" Beisner identifies his own concern with Paul's and says "Because much environmental policy has the consequence--whether it is intended or not; and sometimes I think it is intended--of raising the cost of living, it tends to have a serious negative impact on the world's poor."

Roy Innis, says onenewsnow, labeled "the fight against global warming and carbon cap-and-trade legislation the 'new civil rights movement.'" He said of President Obama's proposed energy policies, "you wonder how a guy could run for the presidency of the United States on a platform that is supposed to be rescuing the poor, doing all these things for the poor--and one of the most important jobs that the poor needs done for them is to make energy, the most basic of commodities, more available, dependable, [and] predictable in price for them."

Now if you are not a skeptic, here's some information from the American Energy Alliance on how the president's budget will increase energy prices for all, rich and poor:

And here's a composite debate between Al Gore (who avoids in person debate) in An Inconvenient Truth and various scientists in The Great Global Warming Swindle (GGWS): If you get a chance to see the entire GGWS, and you'll probably have to purchase the DVD to do so now, there's is a stunning expose of the damage the response to the alarmist global warming scenario imposes on third world countries.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Weekend Shutterbug

I'm trying to relearn, actually learn, my camera, an Olympus Evolt 500, so this weekend I determined to take it along with me, first on a bike ride Saturday, and then to church on Sunday...and my son sent me an apt cartoon from his New Yorker desk calendar, which also became a subject for a photo, and here's the results:

Well, I really don't use mixes, except for birthday cakes, which I do because 1. a fact: most kids prefer the frosting (also pre-mixed) to the cake and 2. laziness: my oldest daughter took over the cake-baking activity for me at about age 12, thanks to mixes.

Saturday was a bright, sunny and fairly mild day in Reno, so I pulled out my Montague paratrooper bike (of which I am wham-o proud and which for many reasons has been little used lately) and went for a sedate ride with my camera. Here's some pictures of March sunshine, wildlife, and flora in Northern Nevada.

Can you beat this sky?

And here's my favorites: hills, hills, rolling hills....hills like white elephants even.

...and pathways.

And the wildlife...well, semi-wild. Reno is sunbird territory for Canadian geese (pretty, but messy).

On Sunday came time to return to our little church in the desert, St. Columba's Traditional Anglican Congregation in Fernley, NV.

We're a tiny family really, and here's a few of us:

Father Ray and Father Bill

David D. and Betty H....

Sam H. and Father Bill & Amy

Most High, glorious God: enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me true faith, certain hope and perfect charity, sense and knowledge, Lord--that I may carry out Your holy and true command.
St. Francis d'Assisi

Let us all be joyful in the Lord!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Don't Break Your Mother's Back

"Step on a crack and break your mother's back" was the refrain years ago when kids actually walked, ran and skipped to school (through wind, snow, rain, sleet, and sunshine of course). We stepped lightly along the sidewalk because we really didn't want to break our mothers' backs.

But breaking backs, at least appropriate backs, is now in vogue...and it's all for the sake of the kids.

Little commented upon at the end of January when Congress passed a major expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) was a 61 cent per pack increase in the tax on cigarettes (to $1.066 per pack) and a 52.75% increase in the tax on each large cigar (capped at 40.26 cents each).

Now, no matter what you think of SCHIP (which I'm sure has many positives...although a big negative is its extension of coverage to middle class children already covered by private insurance, many of whose parents have, historically, immediately dropped private coverage), the tax on tobacco hits hardest the poorer, younger segment of the population.

In a web memo from July 2007 when MOCs (members of Congress) first proposed the tax increase, the Heritage Foundation documents this and points out that "Funding the expansion of a government health program through a tax on a toxic product with a declining revenue stream is not only paradoxical but also fiscally irresponsible ("

In fact, to sustain this tax revenue, Heritage declares 22 million new smokers are needed. Logically, socially responsible citizens should all light up, and certainly those anti-smoking ads that pop up regularly on TV should be banned for subverting SCHIP.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Lessons from the Top of the Stairs

I’m sitting not on a sidewalk, but at the top of the stairs at my daughter’s house, looking into my grandkids’ room. It’s mostly, yet, my grandson’s room because he has been in possession of it for 42 months and baby sister Ione is a recent interloper. Her crib faces his bed, and she is trying to tune into his very loud rendition of Virginia Lee Burton’s wonderful The Little House (sadly surrounded by encroaching city and then happily rescued) while fighting sleep.

I am in my stair-top role as “guardian angel.” What that means is I’m here to keep Maddox in bed (today) or on a pile of comforters on his floor (most days) until he calms down and falls asleep for a nap. He doesn’t really buy the guardian angel bit; he’s guessed my real purpose and so sometimes throws horrendous three-year-old faces in my direction, but this afternoon it’s silliness and gab coming my way, which means sleep is even further afield.

Maddox’s room is, he acknowledges, a mess—“and that makes Mommy sad.” There are red plastic storage tubs in and out of boxes along the wall to hold the toys that are now spread across the floor so that it’s tiptoeing through the pieces to move anywhere. (One of his favorite games is “garbage man”: pouring all the little cars and pieces noisily from one tub to another. Another game is to mount the boxes that hold the tubs to build a castle for his sister and more importantly for Princess Fiona, who, I gather, is an amalgam of all the pretty women he sees in his world.)

But this afternoon Maddox has been Mr. Finder, searching for the Lost Boys and Wendy and Michael and John. He has along his Bob the Builder battery-operated power saw in case he runs into Captain Hook, in which case (please don’t listen, Mom), he will take Hook out.

When Maddox was born, his mom was careful not to force a gender role on him, and he’s still not allowed toy guns or superhero toys, but nature pushes nurture, and he makes do. It is 6-month-old Ione, aka Sweet Pea, who observes calmly and stoically with just a tad quizzical and disapproving little girl intensity.

She’s asleep now. Maddox isn’t, but he is reading a little more quietly. Their Dad’s IPOD is playing selections that range from hip hop and reggae to my preferred blues, folk and country. A wooden pirate ship is sailing across the floor. It will have to navigate around a stuffed dog, nose down; a tipped-over fire house; several blankets including the indispensable Mr. Stripey; two pillows; three medium size trucks; a play camera; a racing helmet; blocks, socks, mittens, small parts, and books, a rubber tiger, a soccer ball, my jacket (how did that get there??), and much, much, more. On the walls are Maddox’s art framed in blue paper borders and an overhead light that is waiting for darkness to shine planets and stars across the universe of ceiling and walls.

Any reasonable person would find this room a disaster, but kids, bless them, are not reasonable people, and disasters are to a degree largely in the eyes of the beholders. Lessons learned may be the same. Maddox’s room may teach that it takes patience to raise children…but I think it also illustrates the wonderful ability of a three-year-old to make order from whatever chaos surrounds him.

PS This post is in response to the "What I learned from..." contest at Middle Zone that runs through March 8.

Wisdom from the East

I'm back from a brief hiatus (a chemo-therapy week) and ready to put itching fingers to keyboard. I sure missed much to comment on last week!

This morning's New York Times (of all places) has a fascinating op-ed ("Japan's Crisis of the Mind" by Masaru Tamamoto, a senior fellow at The World Policy Institute ( "a non-partisan source of progressive policy analysis and thought leadership for more than four decades"). Tamamoto's analysis is fascinating because he decries what American progressives, and by extension The New York Times, seek: "equality and sameness."

Tamamoto writes: "Throughout most of its history, Japan has had social stratification and great inequality of wealth and privilege. The 'egalitarian' Japan was a creature of the 1970s, with its progressive taxation, redistribution of wealth, subsidies and the dampening of competition through regulation. This all seemed to work just fine until our asset-price bubble popped in the 1990s. Today, the hemmed-in Japanese seem satisfied with the knowledge that everyone around them is equally unhappy."

Now, I wonder, considering President Obama's incredibly spendthrift budget request--laden with government solutions to our economic and social woes--on top of the budget-blasting stiumulus, is this a "back to the future" insight for the U.S?

Tamamoto continues: "...What we had was a concept of order and placement, which is essentially stasis. In the West, on the other hand, the idea of progress rests on establishing individual autonomy and liberty. In Japan, bureaucratic rule offered security and predictability--in exchange for personal freedom. The problem is that our current political leaders can't keep their side of the bargain. Employment security can no longer be guaranteed. The national pension and health plans seem to be insolvent in the long run. People feel both insecure and unfree. So despair is everywhere. Japan has one of the highest suicide rates among rich countries." He concludes: "Japan desperately needs change, and this will require risk....risk aversion translates into protectionism and insularity" [and I think "free trade aversion, Nancy Pelosi ???"].

For Tanamoto the course for Japan is "embracing an idea of progress that is based on innovation, ambition and dynamism." And I think the course for the U.S. is also not to toss out these oh-so-American capitalist values because we are in an undeniably bumpy and painful patch in the road.