Modern poetry in our public schools

From a friend who snoops on high schoolers’ remote skool:

My daughter was assigned to study the seminal work “The Hill We Climb” by the titan of American poetry, Amanda Gorman.
Teacher: What does she mean by “a force that would shatter our nation”
Chorus of students: The Truuuuump preeeesideeeeeency…..
Teacher: Great!!! What do you think she means by “the new dawn blooms as we free it, for there is always light”?
Chorus of students: The Biiiiideeeen administraaaaaatiooooon…
Teacher: Oh my God, you guys, you are geniuses! You can all be poets because you mastered literary tools!!!

This focus on American 21st century poetry got me thinking about what would happen if our public schools introduced the works of the greatest living American poet, Kanye West. Suppose that “Gold Digger” were the subject of a class. What would happen when teachers and/or students then said “the n-word” or actually quoted the n-word while analyzing Kanye West’s popular opus? If it is a public school and subject to what’s left of the First Amendment, can teachers be fired and students expelled for their speech? In Western Frogland (Quebec), the answer is “yes”. Here’s a teacher who got axed in a similar situation: Quebec literary works (!) that used the n-word: “Montreal North teacher fired after using N-word repeatedly in class”.

Readers: What do you think? If we accept that rap songs are great poetry (which I do) and that they contain some words that some people don’t like, can they be studied in K-12 without the teachers being fired?

Lyrics from Google (uncensored for some reason, but I’ve bowdlerized them):

She take my money when I’m in need
Yeah, she’s a triflin’ friend indeed
Oh, she’s a gold digger
Way over town, that digs on me
Now, I ain’t sayin’ she a gold digger
(When I’m in need) But she ain’t messin’ with no broke n****
(She give me money) Now, I ain’t sayin’ she a gold digger
(When I’m in need) But she ain’t messin’ with no broke n****

….

Eighteen years, eighteen years
She got one of your kids, got you for eighteen years
I know somebody payin’ child support for one of his kids
His baby mama car and crib is bigger than his
You will see him on TV any given Sunday
Win the Super Bowl and drive off in a Hyundai
She was supposed to buy your shorty Tyco with your money
She went to the doctor, got lipo with your money
She walkin’ around lookin’ like Michael with your money
Shoulda got that insured, Geico for your money
If you ain’t no punk
Holla, “We want prenup! We want prenup!” (Yeah!)
It’s somethin’ that you need to have
‘Cause when she leave yo’ ass, she gon’ leave with half
Eighteen years, eighteen years
And on the 18th birthday he found out it wasn’t his?

Related:

  • “Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries Divorce Timeline”: “Perhaps the most notable thing about their drawn-out divorce — which was settled Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court — was that it lasted seven times longer than their 72-day marriage.” (Kardashian sued third husband Kanye West just recently, using the same lawyer who represented her in the lawsuit against Kris Humphries.)
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Why can’t schools reopen with willing teachers?

For nearly every Black Lives Matter sign in the U.S. we have a Black child whose school remains closed due to coronapanic. Almost every other enterprise in the U.S. that was legally allowed to continue operating managed to continue operating and/or reopen after a governor-ordered closure. Some workers left due to the perceived risk and other workers were hired.

Nearly every grocery store that was open in 2019 remains open in 2021, for example. Presumably some “team members” left to avoid being exposed to hundreds or thousands of customers each day, but a subset retreating into bunkers didn’t shut down any store. (And, actually, now that we think about it, was there a tidal wave of death that swept away America’s grocery store workers? If not, why is it too dangerous to teach in a classroom?) Airlines, similarly, did not have trouble retaining enough pilots and flight attendants to continue operating all the flights that they wanted to operate. (Counterintuitively, this turned out to be hygienic: “US airline employees report lower rate of COVID-19 infection than public”) American flight schools have similarly kept going. Some instructors decided that they they didn’t want to share cramped 4-seater cabins with potentially plagued students. They sat in home bunkers (unpaid) while the CFIs who weren’t as worried about Covid for whatever reason have been in the trainers for additional hours (and being paid for additional hours) with students.

Why hasn’t anyone proposed having schools reopen with whatever teachers wish to teach? Maybe the would be a subset of the 2019 teachers plus some new-hires. There is no shortage of Americans who seek to collect a government paycheck, right?

In the earlier phase of coronapanic, one possible answer was that governors and/or public health bureaucrats wanted the schools closed “to protect the community.” But that’s not true anymore. Now we have governors and public health bureaucrats saying that schools are safe to open (the science has changed?) and the only obstacle is that unionized teachers refuse to teach. In any other unionized enterprise, when some or all workers refuse to work, the employer has the right to hire replacement workers for the duration of the refusal. Why can’t public schools hire replacement workers as necessary?

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College degree vs. education

I enjoyed a new translation of Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas, a standard work of Brazilian literature (published 1881 by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis). The protagonist becomes enamored of a cash-oriented local gal, who demands continuous infusions of costly gifts in exchange for continued romantic and sexual favors. The father decides to preserve the family fortune by sending the protagonist back to the Old Country:

And so it was that I disembarked in Lisbon and traveled on to Coimbra. The university awaited me with its many demanding subjects; I studied them in a very mediocre fashion, and yet I still graduated with a bachelor’s degree; they bestowed this upon me with due solemnity after the required number of years had passed; it was a beautiful ceremony that filled me with pride and nostalgia—mainly nostalgia. In Coimbra I had become famous as a reveler; a profligate, superficial, riotous, insolent student, much given to love affairs, a romantic in practice and a liberal in theory, living according to a pure faith in a pair of dark eyes and a written constitution. On the day when the university credited me, on parchment, with a knowledge that had certainly not put down any deep roots in my brain, I admit that I felt in a way cheated, although proud too. Let me explain: the diploma was a letter of manumission; it gave me freedom, but it also gave me responsibility. I put it to one side, left the banks of the Mondego, and came away feeling distinctly sad, but already filled with an impulse, a curiosity, a desire to elbow others aside, to influence people, to enjoy myself, to live—in short, to prolong university life for the foreseeable future . . .

Some other items from the book…

The author might not have supported the idea of depriving young people of a year of education/work/exercise/social life in order to preserve 82-year-olds from coronavirus:

A bachelor who breathes his last at the age of sixty-four is hardly the stuff of tragedy,

Death from disease was as arbitrary then as now:

My weeping father embraced me. “Your mother isn’t long for this world,” he said. For it wasn’t her rheumatism that was killing her now, but a cancer of the stomach. The poor woman was suffering horribly, because cancer is indifferent to the virtues of the person thus afflicted; when it gnaws, it gnaws; its job is to gnaw.

How could such a sweet, gentle, saintly creature, who had never caused anyone to shed a sad tear, how could this loving mother, immaculate wife, die like this, tortured and gnawed at by the tenacious teeth of a pitiless illness?

A viral epidemic (yellow fever) deprived the protagonist of a fiancée:

I never could understand the need for that epidemic, still less that particular death. Indeed, it struck me as even more absurd than all the other deaths. Quincas Borba, however, explained to me that epidemics were useful to the species, albeit disastrous for certain individuals. He pointed out that no matter how horrific the spectacle may be, there was one advantage of great importance: the survival of the greater number.

The author wouldn’t be surprised at our politicians who come to believe their own fables:

When I was born, Napoleon was in the full pomp of his glory and power; as emperor, he was the object of universal wonderment. My father—who, in persuading others of our noble origins, had ended up persuading himself of them—harbored a purely mental loathing for him.

Would Machado have selected an innumerate 78-year-old to lead a “scientific” assault on coronavirus?

Fifty is the age of wisdom and of government.

People fought over inheritance back then, as now:

We did finally divide up the inheritance, but we parted on very bad terms. And it pained me greatly to fall out with Sabina. We had always been such good friends, had shared childish games and childish squabbles, the laughter and tears of adult life, had often fraternally shared the bread of joy and sadness, like the good brother and sister we were. But now we had fallen out. Just as Marcela’s beauty had vanished with the smallpox.

Being born into poverty wasn’t good:

She was the illegitimate daughter of a cathedral sacristan and a woman who sold homemade cakes and pastries. She lost her father when she was ten years old. By then she was already grating coconut for culinary purposes and performing whatever other tasks were compatible with her age. At fifteen or sixteen she married a tailor, who died of consumption soon after, leaving her with a daughter. Widowed and little more than a girl herself, she was left to care for her two-year-old daughter and her mother, who, by then, was worn out with hard work. Three mouths to feed.

“So one day, the cathedral sacristan, while serving at mass, saw entering the church the lady who was to be his collaborator in the life of Dona Plácida. He saw her on subsequent days, for weeks on end; he liked her, complimented her, trod on her foot while lighting the candles on the altars on holy days. She liked him too, they became close, and fell in love. From such a conjuncture of idle passions sprang Dona Plácida. One assumes that Dona Plácida could not yet speak when she was born, but if she could, she might well have said to the authors of her days: ‘Here I am. Why did you call me?’ And the sacristan and his good lady would naturally have answered: ‘We called you so that you could burn your fingers on the stove, ruin your eyes with sewing by candlelight, eat badly or not at all, trudge back and forth, cooking and cleaning, getting sick and then better, only to get sick again and better again, sometimes sad, sometimes desperate, at others resigned, but always with a cooking pot in your hand and your eyes on your needlework, until one day you end up in the gutter or in hospital. That’s why we called you, in a moment of kindness.’”

On financial prudence:

He was often reproached for being stingy, and not without reason; but stinginess is simply the exaggeration of a virtue, and virtues should be like budgets: better to have a surplus than a deficit.

Will Machado be canceled for not including any LGBTQIA+ characters in his 19th century work? The biography at the end suggests that he might be safe. His paternal grandparents were “mulattos and freed slaves.”

My favorite part of Brazil, Iguazu Falls (2003, taken from the Argentina side):

Related:

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Has educational TV (Sesame Street) been discredited?

My friend is fully recovered from COVID-19 (previous post). As part of his twin passions for minimum effort parenting and ensuring that his children go to an elite university (just like mom and dad!), he has been parking the 3-year-old in front of Sesame Street. I said that I admired his dedication to making sure that the child got to see Dr. Bill Cosby, but that the kid would be bored catatonic by anything from PBS:

Educational PBS TV was a creation of marijuana-fogged urban elites of the 1960s and 70s. I would think that it has been totally discredited by now. Learning the alphabet over and over again? How does that help a child who can learn it in 20 minutes once old enough? Shaun the Sheep is good for kids 3+ in my opinion and there is plenty of mental challenge in following a narrative story.

So… that’s the question for today. Has the idea that children can learn useful stuff about arithmetic, reading, etc. from a TV show such as Sesame Street been discredited or not? “It may be educational, but what is that TV show really teaching your preschooler?” implies that there might be some education, but that children learn to be aggressive as well. “Why TV toddlers are lost for words: Educational programmes do not help young children develop language” (Daily Mail, 2014)

(Our kids watch about 20 minutes of TV per day, on average, and content is selected purely for entertainment value, e.g., the movie Soul on which their cousin worked as an animator. What can be learned from Soul? Not history! A character refers to Charles Drew as the inventor of blood transfusions when, in fact, successful human blood transfusions were developed 100+ years prior to Dr. Charles Drew’s work in blood banking. (There is no mention of Dr. Charles Drew’s colleague, Dr. Jill Biden, MD.))

From SeaWorld Orlando, February 2020:

(The park is open right now, but warns visitors:

Exposure to COVID-19 is an inherent risk in any public location where people are present; we cannot guarantee you will not be exposed during your visit.

“inherent risk”? Even with “protective masks”? Those are fighting words here in Massachusetts!)

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The Capitol coup is a teachable moment

From a friend with kids in high school in a rich Boston suburb…

One of the beautiful things about remote school is that I get, for the first time, to hear what teachers say to taxpayers’ children. Excepts from the “Advanced accelerated” math teacher’s 30-minute monologue (within a 50-minute class period ostensibly devoted to mathematics):

This is not about politics. My politics are clear to you, but it’s not. It’s not up for discussion. All reasonable people agree that what happened in Washington yesterday was a coup. Armed people, who are in charge, tried to take over the government. They had guns, they had bombs. That is the definition of a coup. . […] I know some of your parents had very clear reasons for voting for Trump. It’s okay, it is just their values are different from mine. These values conflict with our 200+ year old democracy. Everyone agrees about the election, except ONE person and those who blindly follow him. … You can be scared. I want you to be scared. … We need to address this s**** so that it f**** never happens again … When Obama was President, the country was flourishing. Now it’s falling apart.

Some kids in the class listened together in an Instagram chat. One asked, “If a cross in the classroom is not okay, how is this?”

[It is okay for parents to vote for Trump despite their values conflicting with democracy? Wouldn’t it make more sense to expel them as we expelled the Loyalists?]

The harshest attack from the teacher was on the students themselves:

Your generation is failing us. This is on you. It is your fault!!!

[Queried, my friend responded “That is correct, he actually said it was the kids’ fault (for not standing up to the tyrant and their terrible parents, some of whom voted for him).” Me: The kids learned about Gandhi so they were supposed to emulate him by going on a hunger strike at home until the parents put out the correct yard signs? But Maskachusetts voted correctly and by a parent-proof margin. And the mostly-not-peaceful protesters were mostly from other states. So, with respect to this issue, why does it matter how anyone in MA voted or what anyone in MA has as a lawn sign? (Separately, do high schools teach “after his wife, Kasturba, died in 1944, Gandhi began the habit of sharing his bed with naked young women: his personal doctor, Sushila Nayar, and his grandnieces Abha and Manu, who were then in their late teens and about 60 years younger than him.”?(Guardian))]

That was math. How about English?

Teaching moment gone wrong. My daughter’s English teacher decided to ask this question on a free-for-all jamboard: “The Capitol Building: what is one idea or fact that DID NOT surprise you?”

Responses:

  • liberals got mad
  • americans are fighting for their freedom
  • All of the hypocrites because this happened before [during BLM?]
  • that liberals would say how bad this was, when they did very violent things during blm
  • it did not surprise me that our soon to be EX PRESIDENT did almost absolutely nothing to control this situation

The teacher acted quickly to condemn “students who wrote inappropriate things.”

In the middle school

6th grader, comparing to elementary: “I like middle school because the teachers are actually helpful and they’re not Black Lives Matter and Rainbow Flag-oriented 24/7.”

Related:

  • “Democrats were for occupying capitols before they were against it” (Washington Post): “Thousands of protesters rushed to the … Capitol Wednesday night, forcing their way through doors, crawling through windows and jamming corridors.” That is how one newspaper described the storming of the Capitol — not the one in Washington last week, but the state Capitol in Madison, Wis., a decade ago. Back then, thousands of pro-union activists — many bused in from out of state — rampaged through the historic building in an effort to stop a vote on collective bargaining reform legislation. … House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) praised the occupiers for an “impressive show of democracy in action” and tweeted as they assaulted the Capitol that she continued “to stand in solidarity” with the union activists. In other words, Democrats were for occupying capitols before they were against it.
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Windows or MacOS better for restricting teenager activity online?

As noted in Coronapanic proved Greta Thunberg right, 2020 will go down in history as the year when adults stole the most from children (a whole year of their educational and social life in hopes that a handful of (mostly very old) adults might live a few additional years).

American children are now supposed to be focused computer users all day at home in “remote school” with no supervision. Adults in this situation will generally get distracted with online shopping, online chatting with friends, social media, etc. But we have set up a system in which a teenager who fails to resist all of these temptations will lose a year of education.

First, I’m wondering why there isn’t a service in which someone in India or the Philippines will remote desktop into the child’s computer and stay there all day. The remote proctor can then shout out “Hey, get back to your school browser. Tiktok will not help you get into Yale.” Let the remote proctor connect to a speaker in the corner of the room to do the shouting and call the monthly service Telescreen. Perhaps for a reduced monthly fee, the folks in India/Philippines could use conventional operating system controls and alert parents on a daily or weekly basis, block out new chat sites daily, etc.

For those who want to do it all themselves, but not stand over the child/teenager every day, what operating system is best? Windows has an extensive array of controls, I think, when the parent is the Admin account and the child is a User account. Some explanations:

A friend who has a history of monitoring activity within his household (see Au pair to green card) says the following:

Windows does it perfectly. There’s a browsing and search history monitor. You can restrict by host. If his chat apps are inside the browser, you can block the host name. It knows about browsers even you don’t know about. The parent can easily see that he is spending 4 hours a day on somechat.com and then go see herself what it is and then block it with one click. It can all be done remotely.

(Some of the protections on web activity may work only if the browser is Microsoft’s own Edge program.)

How about the Macintosh? This Macworld UK article suggests that it is easy to block categories of web sites, but not individual hosts. A third-party app, bark, seems to go deeper at $100/year.

Should we ask Professor Dr. Jill Biden, Ed.D. for advice in this area?

Finally, why isn’t there a good marketplace for American parents to hire teachers/tutors from foreign countries to sit virtually with their children in the sad parody that we call “remote school”? For a higher fee, instead of a proctor who can block time-wasting activities (such as blogging!), the teenager gets a qualified teacher to look at assignments, suggest references, etc. There are markets for language tutors, right? Why not a market for a remote private teacher for one’s kids? It could be useful also for parents whose children are “homeschooled”.

Touchscreen gloves for the child who needs to be online in the snow…

From our in-house 11-year-old artist, who is not a screen-time junkie. I wonder how much paint will be coming off with the tape that she used…

Readers: What is the technical solution? Windows, Mac, Windows+App/Service, or Mac+App/Service? And why can’t we easily pay the foreigners who might be able to help our children stay focused on their schoolwork?

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#MarkedSafe from Homemade Cookies and Crafts

Email from the local school:

Dear Parents and Caregivers,

As we approach the December break, it is a time of year where many families and school staff like to give homemade baked goods and crafts as gifts of appreciation. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic we are going to respectfully ask to put a hold on this practice as a part of our ongoing efforts to keep everyone safe.

We have all worked hard to keep each other safe and to keep our schools open. We appreciate your willingness to find alternative ways to express your gratitude this year. A letter to the teacher with a specific thanks would be greatly appreciated!

The journal paper practically writes itself: “The role of Toll House cookies in the spread of a respiratory virus.”

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When someone pleads ignorance regarding the Holocaust, fire him twice!

“Florida Principal Who Wouldn’t Call Holocaust ‘Factual’ Is Fired Again” (NYT):

A high school principal in Florida whose refusal to acknowledge the Holocaust as a “factual, historical event” in an email led to a national backlash, his firing and then his rehiring has been fired for a second time.

The Palm Beach County school board on Tuesday voted 7 to 0 to fire the principal, William Latson, who was removed from his post last year at Spanish River Community High School in Boca Raton, Fla., after a 2018 email exchange with a student’s parent became public.

What did the guy say?

“I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee,” Mr. Latson stated in one of the emails, which were obtained by The Palm Beach Post. Mr. Latson said he had to stay “politically neutral” and separate his personal views about the Holocaust from his job as a public school official.

“I do allow information about the Holocaust to be presented and allow students and parents to make decisions about it accordingly,” he wrote. “I do the same with information about slavery.”

His answer would have been perfect for a deposition. He wasn’t alive in the 1940s. He is not a historian. He doesn’t have any better information regarding what happened during the 1940s than anyone else. Being a school system administrator does not qualify him to offer a history lesson. Also, he did clarify his personal beliefs regarding this period of history:

“I am not a Holocaust denier,” he says in the video. “I have never been a Holocaust denier. I am sorry that my comments caused people to think that.”

What was the point of firing this guy (twice!)? Just to show that even a hint of dissent cannot be tolerated?

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Racialized groups in our local public school

From the folks who will, if all goes according to plan, eventually occupy what will be the most expensive (per-student) school ever constructed in the United States:

Dear faculty, staff, parents, and guardians,

As you know the district has partnered with NCBI (National Coalition Building Institute) to support us in our work to become an antiracist district and our larger AIDE work (antiracism, inclusion, diversity, and equity). One of the many facets of our plan this year is for NCBI to conduct focus groups with a series of stakeholders including students, parents/guardians, and district staff.

The list below shows all of the focus groups we plan to hold over the coming two months:

Boston-resident students in METCO program grades 4-6
Boston-resident students in METCO program grades 7-8
Lincoln-resident students in grades 4-8 who identify as Black, biracial, or mixed
Lincoln-resident students in grades 4-8 who identity as part of other racialized groups (LatinX, Indigenous, Asian-American, Middle Eastern)
Lincoln-resident students in grades 4-8 who identify as White

What’s a “raciliazed group”? From Wikipedia:

In sociology, racialization or ethnicization is the process of ascribing ethnic or racial identities to a relationship, social practice, or group that did not identify itself as such. Racialization or ethnicization often arises out of the interaction of a group with a group that it dominates and ascribes a racial identity to for the purpose of continued domination; over time, the racialized and ethnicized group often gradually identifies with and even embraces this identity and thus becomes a self-ascribed race or ethnicity. These processes have been common throughout the history of imperialism, nationalism, and racial and ethnic hierarchies.

With almost everyone, except for Donald Trump, dropping dead from COVID-19, how important is this?

We recognize that everyone has a lot going on in life now — and we also believe that it is important for us to dedicate time to listening to the experiences of our fellow community members.

I would love to know who these people are who have “a lot going on in life now”!

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