Badtux the Snarky Penguin

In a time of chimpanzees, I was a penguin.

Religious fundamentalists are motivated by the sneaking suspicion that someone, somewhere, is having fun -- and that this must be stopped.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Democrats are nice to teachers!

The Coultergeist (sorry, no linky, I won't drive hits to the harpy) has come up with the latest crime that the Democrats are guilty of: They're being nice to teachers.

Good call, Republicons! Everybody knows that the best way to deal with the people who are raising your children (because you're too self-centered, selfish, apathetic, and/or stupid to do it yourself) is not to be nice to them. If your kid isn't doing well in school, remember, it's not your kid's fault for being lazy, apathetic, or just plain stupid. It's the teacher's fault! Why, if the teacher wasn't so selfish as to work for almost nothing for twelve hours a day during the school year trying to pound some knowledge into the heads of ungrateful little brats who would rather be anywhere else, if she'd just wave her little magic wandy thingy abra cadabra like Hairy Potter, your kid would be a genius instead of an ignorant, self-centered apathetic idiot!

Yessirree, them Demon-craps. They just don't know how to treat teachers. Why, they say teachers ought to be paid more to deal with your demon spawn? Oh the horror! They say teachers ought to have better working conditions rather than working in dungeon-like Early Industrial settings with leaky roofs and drafty windows? To the gallows with them! Why, ever good Republican knows that the only way to deal with a teacher is to come in with a belt and start walloping the hell out of her for ruining your child with them thare "idears" thingies, yessiree!

So remember, boys and girls: Vote Republicans. Because them Demoncraps, why, they're... they're... nice to teachers. GASP!

-- Badtux the Snarky Former Teacher Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 8/01/2007 06:24:00 PM  4 comments  

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Self Esteem

The notion of "self esteem" is the notion that somehow feeling good about yourself means a damned thing other than that you feel good about yourself.

Back when I was teaching in an inner city school in Houston, the central office sent down one of those damned "self esteem" curriculums. I looked around at my classroom, and threw it in the trash. Because if you wanted those kids to feel good about themselves, what was needed wasn't "self esteem". What was needed was clean, safe housing with enough beds for all the kids so kids didn't have to sleep three to a bed. What was needed was a living wage so that these kids' parents didn't have to work 16 hours a day just to keep a vermin-ridden roof over their head and could, like, actually raise their kids rather than being a distant presence only seen during rare weekend periods when one parent wasn't working. What was needed was competent teachers and adequate schooling rather than newbie teachers right out of teacher colleges who didn't have the foggiest notion how to talk to black kids in the ghetto much less teach them. What they needed was hope for the future, hope that they certainly weren't gonna get from a Texas legislature busily cutting children's health care and raising college tuitions, hope they certainly weren't gonna get from a Republican administration in Washington D.C. that was busily gutting the Pell Grant program for sending poor kids to college. What they saw was a dismal dreary present today and the same dismal, dreary future that their parents had, regardless of what they tried to do with their lives, and justifiably they weren't too happy about that.

But noooo, these kids problems weren't all that. These kids' problems were... low self esteem. So the message we teachers were supposed to impart was: Don't worry, be happy.

Now, the whole notion of "self esteem" is a strange one. I'd say a queer one, but then the gay rights activists would get outraged and stuff, so anyhow. Science is about things that are measurable. But who has ever seen a "self esteem"? So the floggers of the whole "don't worry, be happy" thingy created test instruments full of questions like, "I feel good about myself", and "I feel capable", and then defined "self esteem" as scoring high on that test. The problem then becomes the same damned thing that my professor in Social Sciences Research 501 taught me in grad school: Correlation is not causation.

For example, there is a correlation between umbrellas and rain. If you see a lot of umbrellas, it is likely to either be currently raining, or to start raining shortly. But this doesn't mean that umbrellas cause rain, any more than summer causes drownings. The actual cause of rain is something else entirely.

Similarly, the self esteem gurus with their tests discovered that well-off suburban kids who answered "1" (Agree Strongly)_ on "I feel good about myself" scored higher on academic benchmarks than my inner city kids who answered "5" (Disagree strongly) on that question. Duh. Why the fuck should my inner city kids have felt good about themselves? They were stuck in a horrible mess not of their own making, and every avenue for getting out of that shithole was being systematically taken away from them by Republican assholes whose attitude was "I got mine, and fuck everybody else", why should they have felt good about themselves? But the self esteem gurus then used this test to say, "high self esteem causes better school performance!"

Anyhow, that was the status quo for many years after I left teaching. Teachers were supposed to "foster self esteem" in their students. So finally -- finally --Baumeister et. al. did the research. They actually performed an experiment, as vs. a correlational study. The difference is that an experiment changes something. In this experiment, they taught kids to feel good about themselves (i.e. have high self-esteem). If you teach kids to feel good about themselves ("have high esteem"), do they actually perform better in school? Well, the answer, of course, is NO. In fact, for some kids it actually hurt their performance. After all, if you're already a perfect and wonderful person, what do you need all this schoolwork junk for?

So in the end, science backs up my gut feel from over a decade ago and shows that "self esteem" turns out to be meaningless. Folks feel good about themselves and their lives if they are in a good situation accomplishing things of worth, and feel bad about themselves and their lives if they're in a bad situation accomplishing nothing of worth. Kids who make good grades feel good about themselves because they make good grades, not the other way around. In other words, "self esteem" is effect, not cause. Other than in the special case of "learned helplessness", the whole concept of "self esteem" turns out to have no practical application.

On the other hand, for our rulers, the message "don't worry, be happy!" does make some sense, I suppose. Contented sheep, after all, are easier to fleece. But whether we're talking about low-achieving kids in school or fat people or whatever, "pumping up their self esteem" isn't the path to take in order to get better performance out of them. Rather, taking direct action to provide them better education, better nutritional and exercise choices, etc. while providing incentives to actually engage in those better choices is what needs to be done.

But that's practical advice. And everybody knows that what counts is how happy you are, not whether you are in fact smart or healthy or whatever. Alrighty, then!

-- Badtux the Self Esteem Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 7/18/2007 08:24:00 AM  2 comments  

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Let's party like it's 1953!

The U.S. Supreme Court overturns Brown v Board of Education, re-legalizes segregation (as long as it's done wink wink nod nod by drawing school boundaries in a "color blind" way that just happens to put all the white kids in "good" schools and just happens to put all the brown kids in miserable schools).

As a black and white and yellow multicolored penguin, I am of course concerned about this decision, since it means that my multicolored offspring are likely to never be allowed to mix with pale-skinned monocolored monkeys in the schools and thus will be less prepared to interact with them in the workplace and beyond as they go their migratory waterfowl ways. But hey, gotta keep the darkies in their place, right? Why, if white-skinned monocolored monkeys are allowed to mix with dark-skinned monocolored monkeys, it could... it could... uhm... cause the moon to turn into cheese and fall to Earth and cause a plague of mice? Cause San Francisco to slide into the ocean? Cause everybody to come down with leprosy and die horrible deaths? C'mon, folks, I'm reachin' here, help me out!

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 6/28/2007 10:56:00 AM  6 comments  

Friday, June 08, 2007

"Corporate America" is like "Bush Competence"

So a nice little headline on an editorial in the Murky News says, "Corporate America needs to answer the education bell."

Morons. Stupid fucking morons. There is no "Corporate America" anymore. Thanks to globalization, corporations today are multinational entities that owe no allegiance to any nation. To talk of "Corporate America" is to talk of a by-gone era when there was such a thing as an American corporation. Today's corporations owe allegiance only to one entity: The Almighty Dollar. And they're perfectly willing to clear-cut entire nations, stripping them of all their assets then moving on, in pursuit of their object of worship, the long green. Including stripping entire nations of the assets needed to run a decent educational system. After all, once they finish reducing one nation to a hoard of illiterates incapable of contributing to the world economy as anything other than consumers, there's always other nations out there whose educational system has not yet been plundered where they can cherry-pick that nation's smart educated people to run their international conglomerates.

In today's American economy, there are two kinds of businesses -- small individually-owned businesses that barely manage to eke out a living for their owners, and giant multinational corporations that make obscene profits by monopolizing major areas of the world economy via organized oligopolies and structural barriers to entry. The effects upon local charities that formerly depended upon corporate donations has been devastating. There are not, for example, local banks anymore. They're all owned by some big corporation based in New Jersey or South Carolina or someplace like that. So a charity goes in and asks a bank manager, "could you donate money for a new roof for our town's elementary school?", and the bank manager can only shake his head and say "I can put in a request to corporate in Charlotte, but I don't have authority to do that myself." And anonymous bank managers in some far away city... what do they care about your local town's elementary school? They don't. It just isn't relevant to them.

Any notion that "corporate America" will have anything to do with educational reform is just proof that some people are congenitally stupid. You might as well ask Santa Claus to reform education. Santa Claus is no less fictional.

-- Badtux the Multinational Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 6/08/2007 12:47:00 PM  6 comments  

Thursday, June 07, 2007

They go to school

If you thought U.S. schools had problems...

But hey, they're just the sons and daughters of sand niggers, so they don't count.

-- Badtux the Saddened Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 6/07/2007 05:35:00 PM  0 comments  

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Learning history - out. Practice tests - in.

Mountain View High School may be one of the better public high schools in the nation. But they are not immune to the dictates of the Every Child Left Behind Act either. These dictates say that Mountain View High School must score better every year on the standardized tests mandated by ECLBA -- or else. Even though they already score in the top 5% of the nation.

So starting next year, Mountain View High School's award-winning Facing History class, which brings together Holocaust and other genocide survivors with students, is history. Instead, the time will be spent taking practice tests in order to get test scores up. Because, as we all know, taking practice tests is more important than learning history...

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin


Posted by: BadTux / 6/05/2007 03:47:00 PM  4 comments  

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The best testing money can buy

One of the things about the Every Child Left Behind Act that President Bush got passed during his first term is its incessant requirement for testing and for punishing schools that don't test well. This is a staple of Republican orthodoxy. Testing, according to the Republicans, is the only way we can know the answer to the question, "is our children learning?" (as Dear Leader asked it) and get schools to teach better.

So does it work? Well, Texas has been testing the crap out of their students for over a decade now and the answer is... no.

What the emphasis upon testing has done is turn teachers, administrators, and students into conspirators to cheat on the tests. In Texas, the usual suspects have been implicated in the cheating scandal (the big-city Houston and Dallas school districts, whose students generally don't have a prayer of passing the test without looking at the answer key). But charter schools, which have an even more pressing incentive to cheat because they don't get taken over by the state they get shut down if their scores are too low, are even bigger cheaters than big-city urban schools.

It's all part of the most common delusional stupidity of our nation: the insane notion that you can punish people (or institutions like schools) into doing shit. You can't. All that punishment produces is avoidance behaviors, which most likely are *not* the behaviors that you want to have happen (unless what you want the kid to avoid is killing people, in which case teaching him avoidance of killing people is a pretty good idea). If you beat a child for everything he does wrong, rather than teaching him what is right and praising and helping him to achieve that, all you accomplish is creating a sneaky little liar who is adept at foisting the blame for his misdeeds upon other people (hmm, makes me wonder about discipline in the George H.W. Bush household). If you beat a hunting dog, all you do is break his spirit and make him worthless as a hunting dog. If you punish a school for poor test scores, all you do is make the school cheat on the tests. Etc. This delusional notion that you can punish people into doing what you want likely is religious in nature, related to the delusion that the reason people behave like civilized human beings is because they will go to Hell if they don't, not because, for most of us, behaving like civilized human beings is a rewarding activity that gains us both financial rewards (the ability to make a living in a reasonably pleasant manner) and praise and admiration from our peers.

If you want schools to teach better, you're going to have to lay out the behaviors you want to see, then reward them for exhibiting those behaviors. It works. I've done it with some of the most hard-core kids on this planet, kids who had been beaten and ass-whipped until black and blue in an attempt to get them to behave "right", and seen it work. Set up a merit system, lay out the behaviors you want to see and what happens if you see them, and soon enough you have them marching around campus like Marines on parade. Teachers and administrators aren't hard-core, they want to teach well even if they don't know how to do it with the students they're getting nowadays (who generally outside of middle-class suburbs are uninterested in education, see no point in going to school, and make little effort to learn and every effort to entertain themselves by misbehaving). Lay out your expected behaviors, reward them, and you'll get results. Guaranteed. If I can do it with hard-core ghetto inner city kids despite being a four-eyed geek, the greatest nation on the planet can do it with a buncha do-gooder teachers and admins with even less trouble. There's no need to punish failing schools. The only need is to identify the actions that teachers and admins need to take in order to turn them around, and rewarding teachers and admins for taking those actions. And if we don't know how to turn them around, if we don't know what specific actions teachers and admins need to take, all the punishment in the world won't work, any more than punishing a pig will teach it how to fly.

-- Badtux the Former Teacher Penguin


Posted by: BadTux / 6/03/2007 09:23:00 AM  6 comments  

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Prison State USA: Round up the kids!

Now they're coming for the children. And I'm not talking about teenagers. Read some of the links Jurassic Pork's commenters helpfully rounded up for us.

I have absolutely no respect for adults who cannot handle a six year old child without calling the cops. None. This is a complete and utter failure in training. A child seeking attention has been rewarded for misbehavior with a *lot* of attention, and thus will misbehave more in the future. This is the dumbest, stupidest, most ignorant thing I've ever heard of -- and it is rampant today, apparently, from the links at Jurassic Pork's site.

The solution isn't the paddle. As I pointed out in my post "On Violence":

When it comes to the raising of children, or disciplining of children, much the same applies -- violence is never moral. The problem isn't that we've banned the paddle or whatever other rot the tighty righties want to trot out. The problem is that we have a very punitive and violent society that views punishment -- violence -- as the solution to all problems. But while violence can *stop* a behavior, that is all it can do -- it can never add something to a child's understanding of the world. It can never add something to society. Love, encouragement, setting clear goals and expectations and rewards (note I say rewards, not bribes, there's a difference), making life a pleasant and rewarding experience rather than something harsh and punitive... what works for raising a happy child, also works for raising a happy society. Alas, our punishment and violence addicted society seems to have forgotten this, thus why our society is so unhappy, violent, and prone to addictions such as crack cocaine, black tar heroin, and neo-conservative politics.
The solution, rather, is to have adults behave as adults. Physical intervention was necessary in this case because the child was behaving in a way that interfered with the education of other children and refused to leave the classroom, but violence against a child was completely and utterly unwarranted, unnecessary, and totally counter-productive. All that this child has learned is that by behaving like a complete ass, she can get lots of the adult attention that she apparently craves. She should have been gently physically restrained for as long as it took to round up her mother or bring herself under control, then removed to the custody of her mother for several days' suspension, or to emergency foster care if her mother or some other relative was not available to take custody. Then she should not have been allowed back into class without a behavior plan in place, preferably one based upon a "levels" system where she had to earn her way back into the good graces of the school via exhibiting clearly defined and observed desirable behaviors and receiving a specified set of priviliges back. This is how I was trained by the Houston Independent School District to handle this situation fifteen years ago, and H.I.S.D. isn't particularly known for excellence in education or discipline, but this is what worked and it worked even for the mentally ill children that I was charged with teaching.

But that conflicts with the violent and ignorant nature of our society, so these Florida crackers think that "being tough" is the solution. Violence against children is never the solution. Never. Some very limited violence may be necessary in order to stop a behavior that presents a danger to herself or others, but as I have previously pointed out, violence never adds anything to the world. It only takes away. You have to fill a child with something to fill that hole, with joy and love and doing things together and making life a pleasant place for that child the majority of the time, or all you end up with is a child that is unhappy, misbehaving, and violent. We have decades -- yes, *DECADES* -- of behavioral research confirming this. Yet as a violent and ignorant society, we still insist upon violence as the solution to all societal problems...

-- Badtux the Behavioral Psychology Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 4/11/2007 12:13:00 PM  5 comments  

Friday, March 16, 2007

The school of far, far away

Prestigious public school illegally gets rid of poorly performing students to raise its NCLB test scores.

Republican to English translation: "No Child Left Behind" = "Fuck the darkies." After all, the easiest way to raise your test scores is not via teaching better -- NCLB provides no money for teaching better, after all. No, the easiest way to raise your test score is to get rid of all those untermenschen -- the poor, the disabled, those who are, let us say, suspiciously dusky (horrors!). After all, if we educated them, why, they might even compete with OUR kids for those prestigious slots at the top ranked universities. Horrors!

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 3/16/2007 01:23:00 PM  1 comments  

Friday, March 02, 2007

What can we do about out-of-control schools?

That is a question asked by The Quaker Agitator. I have some answers. Not answers that he, as a practitioner of non-violence, is likely to agree with, but answers.
  1. Acknowledge that for a significant number of students, the correct environment is more akin to a juvenile detention center than to a traditional school. This isn't a popular notion, but I should not have been required to teach students who had probation officers due to having committed violent crimes. Neither my principal nor myself had the training nor the backup personnel or facilities available to deal with violent criminals. These students need to be in a more institutional setting where there are personnel trained to deal with violent criminals and "timeout cells" available for removing violent criminals to spend time if they disrupt a class. They don't need to be in neighborhood schools where they disrupt the education of children who wish to learn.
  2. Fix the system of discipline for special education students. The current system gives perverse incentives to principals to refuse to discipline said students, because if the student is suspended or expelled the district is require to provide home schooling for the student, and the money to do so is taken directly out of the school's budget. With 20% of students now "officially" being classified as ADHD, there is a hard core of "special ed" students who will basically tell you, as a teacher, "you can't discipline me" -- and they're right.
  3. Fix the system for financing schools. Right now, schools are financed on either a per-pupil or average-daily-attendance basis depending upon the state. This gives a principal a perverse incentive to not expel (or in ADA states suspend) a violent student, because if he expels a violent student, he loses money for educating the kid. Losing $6,000 out of the school's budget due to expelling a single student might mean, for example, that the school is no longer able to purchase toner for the copiers, we're talking a big deal here. Principals should continue to receive money for students who've been expelled or suspended due to discipline infractions.
  4. Fix the basis for assessing principals' performance in the discipline arena. Discipline assessment should not be done by counting up the number of suspensions and expulsions and patting the principals on the head if they have fewer suspensions and expulsions than their peers. Assessment of principals should be done by, for example, issuing survey forms to teachers where said survey forms are then turned in anonymously so that they cannot be tracked to a particular teacher (otherwise retaliation becomes an issue). Principals should not be rewarded for ignoring discipline problems, but currently they are.
  5. Quit deferring to criminal parents. I'm serious. There are a significant number of parents who have been convicted of violent crimes, who are currently drug abusers, or otherwise not suited to make any sort of positive contribution to the education of their children. Yet when their child is disciplined, they are quick to come to the defense of their child in ways both legal and non-legal, both with threats of violence (mock drive-by shootings are quite effective there) and with threats of legal action. In many cases the principal and school administrators back down. Instead, those parents need to be arrested for making threats, and there should be mandatory jail time for threatening school personnel, rather than the current situation where at best a judge will fuss at them and fine them. Violence is one area where I support the notion of zero tolerance.
  6. Require local police departments and judges to properly protect schools from violent criminals. Often local police departments simply refuse to respond when a principal or teacher calls them due to violent crime happening on-campus, basically saying "none of our business." But violence is the reason police departments exist in the first place. If a student is behaving in a violent manner, the police need to respond, and if they do not, there needs to be a legal infrastructure in place so that top police department personnel can be punished for refusing to respond.
  7. End the War on Drugs. The War on Drugs rewards kids for violent behavior, as they use violence to defend their "turf" from others who would sell drugs in that neighborhood. Often this violent behavior is brought into the schools themselves. We need to quit rewarding violence.
Some of these are going to be controversial. The notion that children can be violent criminals who need to be treated like violent criminals, for example, is offensive to many people who insist that children are innocents and not capable of evil. But reality doesn't care about us being offended. Reality simply is.

Chances of ANY of this happening? None. Nada. No way. Everybody prefers to simply stick their head in the sand and refuse to admit we have a problem with violence in our schools. Far, far better to ignore the problem than admit that it is a problem, and that we're going to have to spend time, effort, and money implementing often-controversial proposals in order to solve it. And so it goes here in the United States of Delusion, where reality is something that other people worry about...

-- Badtux the Former Teacher Penguin

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Posted by: BadTux / 3/02/2007 12:40:00 PM  9 comments  

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Why I quit teaching

This could have been me.

Anybody who is still teaching in an American classroom in this day and age is woefully underpaid given the risks they're taking and the amount of work they're putting out. I'm making four times more money now than I made when I was teaching... and I'll tell you one thing, I worked twice as hard as a teacher, not to mention being physically threatened with violence more than once. (Which doesn't work on me, my Cajun comes up, but still... ).

I got tired of dealing with rude, violent, disrespectful people every day... and those were the parents and my principal. Good riddance to all of them. A pity about the kids, but shit, if their parents gave a fuck, teachers would make six figure salaries in the first place. I don't feel bad at all about the fact th at now an English teacher is "teaching" the Algebra and Geometry classes I once taught. We get the school system we want -- and deserve.


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Posted by: BadTux / 2/28/2007 05:17:00 PM  5 comments  
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