Archive for March, 2011


My husband and I watch a lot of tv. When I am home alone I watch less than I do if he is there, but tv watching is a major activity in our household. Something we enjoy commenting on is the advertising for different shows that we enjoy. Over the time we have been together my husband often bemoans the casting of men in commercials as stupid, do nothing jerk-offs who either do nothing to improve the state of a woman’s existence or they actively/accidentally do things to make it worse.

One commercial has a husband on a porch with his wife, who has just set their picnic table on the deck for a barbecue with cute plates, silverware, place mats, and flowers in a vase in the center. She turns to him and says:

“Oh! You’re going to wash the deck?” (He has a rather large tank with a hose sticking out of it.)

And he responds, a la Tim Taylor of Home Improvement: “Not wash… (flips down protective glasses) Power wash!”

Then he proceeds to turn on the power washer, which goes out of control in his hand as if it was a fire hose, knocking everything off the picnic table. The wife puts her hand to her head and the announcer says: “You have enough headaches in your life. Solve it with *insert pain medication here*” Honestly I couldn’t remember if it was Advil or Aleve or Tylenol.

Now, this commercial makes me ask several questions. One, why would the wife set up the deck for a BBQ if the husband had to power wash it first? Two, how wimpy are the husband’s arms if he can’t handle a power washer? Three, why does the husband cause the headache? Lord knows that a stereotypical wife would have given him enough grief after these shenanigans to give him a use for Tylenol or Advil as well.

A second commercial has a husband and a son putting together the makings for chips and salsa in the kitchen. The son has put salsa in a bowl and slides it across the island to the dad. Dad then looks around conspiratorially and slides it back to his son. This begins a game which ends in, you guessed it, a Big Kitchen Mess!TM Mom swoops in, shakes her head, the boys look sorry, and she rips off a piece of Brawny or whatever other paper towel might have been being advertised. This makes me, as a woman, ask only one question: Why didn’t you make them clean it up themselves?!?!

The answers to my questions are all rooted in the need for American marketing to cling to 1950s stereotypes. The woman holds all sway at home and the husband isn’t expected to do anything but cause headaches and make messes. In most cases my female friends would become angry at the stereotyping of the American female as the sole caretaker of the house. I know for a fact that Supernanny would have none of the enabling in the second commercial. She would have had the mum make the child and dad clean up the mess and they would go straight to the “naughty spot.” (Okay, so maybe the dad wouldn’t. But we can dream, right ladies?)

As much as I hate to go down the road where the white suburban male is somehow victimized, I have to travel that path here. My point is not so much that he is victimized but more that he is encouraged to keep up his own stereotype. Feeling tired after a day of work? Go ahead and sit back because you know your woman is neurotic enough to clean it before you “get around to it” because it has been driven into your head with commercials, sitcoms, movies, and your own home life since you were born. And women, keep cleaning because you don’t want to have that fight again right? Men are so lazy and stupid it’s probably easier to just do it right by doing it yourself because otherwise you’d have to redo it behind him.

A movie that shows this relationship perfectly is Date Night with Tina Fey and Steve Carell. The movie starts with the typical relationship: He works all day and does nothing at home, she’s a struggling realtor who runs into drawers he leaves open, puts down toilet seats he leaves up, and cleans up after his and the kids’ messes. The end of the movie finds them transforming their expectations so that he thinks about what he does that makes her life more difficult, and she lets go a bit and trusts him to help out. Give and take people. Realistic? Maybe, if both parties are willing to admit that they are (a) slobs and (b) control freaks that both need to meet in the middle somehow.

What I just described is what every product commercial wants you to believe. Silly husbands, you’re so cute and messy! Let me clean up behind you. Oh husbands, you’re so stupid, but instead of communicating I’ll just take this pill and it will be okay. Next time you are watching commercials ask yourself what they are really showing you about relationships between husbands and wives and their children. What are we “supposed” to do in our society? And is it all about feminism or is it a deeper issue which requires participation on both sides of the sex line?

Weighty Wednesday: Define Fat

Merriam-Webster.com: adj. notable for having an unusual amount of fat (plump, obese)

Medterms.com: well above normal weight, 20% or more above ideal weight as defined by BMI (calculate yours now! Hint: You’re obese.)

I refuse to put the urban dictionary crap on here because it’s like wikipedia for stupid people.

Medically I am obese. When considering BMI and my measurements, I am hands down, no question, by the numbers obese. My ideal medically healthy weight is about 170 pounds and currently I reside at exactly 251 pounds. Mathematically, you’ve got me. I surrender.

Let’s look up at that Merriam-Webster definition though: notable for having an unusual amount of fat. Last time I checked, 34% of Americans are obese and about 33% of Americans are considered to be overweight (this is based on a 2006 survey). So 67% of Americans (208,415,244 out of 311,067,529 people in the US) are well above their normal weight. I ask you, is the usual amount of fat now different? Am I “fat” as defined by Merriam Webster? Or is my fat content now “usual” for the society in which I live? Medically you’ve got me. But sociologically I might just be a normal person living in a world where excess fat is the usual condition.

Please don’t take this as an excuse to think fat is okay. We all have our own personal definitions of fat, and most probably include negative words like bad, ugly, gross, etc. I would just ask that you briefly consider that while medically you should be striving for a healthier weight, personally and socially you should know that you are not unusual. You are not a gross monster roaming the streets among skinny people who allow you to be there. In America, you are the majority. You are normal. Unhealthy in the long run, but normal. Accept yourself, then decide what you need to change to get healthy. See a doctor. Take a walk. Join a gym. Take tennis lessons. Cook your own food. Try new veggies and fruits. Drink your damn milk. But always remember: you are the norm, not the bad. You are just you, not the enemy.

On March 24 (last Thursday) Governor Rick Scott of Florida signed a new act into law which greatly affects teachers in the state. I printed off the law (which refers heavily on existing statutes) and would like to start off with a few facts, then follow those with some more facts. It is important to know these before we get down to bashing on them.

1. The bill changes how district school boards deal with compensation and salary schedules, requiring them to include performance criteria in the schedules that they adopt. (Performance pay)

2. The bill changes contract requirements for personnel hired on or after a certain date. (Tenure)

These are the two most controversial points in the bill. School districts are charged with creating evaluation procedures (which need to be approved by the state) that will be used to determine whether their teachers are (1) highly effective, (2) effective, (3) needing improvement (or in the case of beginning teachers: developing), or (4) unsatisfactory.  The bill actually makes a point of saying that “a school district’s performance evaluation is not limited to basing unsatisfactory performance of instructional personnel…solely upon student performance” but later states that student performance should comprise at least 50% of teachers’ evaluation scores.

The bill states that the Commissioner of Education will be coming up with a formula that measures student academic growth to be put into place by October 2012. This formula will include data from the FCAT including the students’ prior performance, grade level, and subject area. While the commissioner will also take student attendance, disciplinary records, disabilities, and English proficiency under consideration, he/she will not consider gender, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status in the formula. (I have some thoughts on this, but we are currently dealing in straight facts taken directly from the bill.) For teachers who instruct in areas not covered by the state assessments, they can look forward to either shackling themselves to the state assessment anyway and basically rolling the dice or developing their own yearly assessments which will need to be approved by the district and the state.

Once all of these student assessments and teacher evaluation procedures are in place we can now explore how compensation and salary schedules are going to change. First, districts are going to have to develop a salary schedule that will be used for employees hired before July 1, 2014. Personnel will remain on this schedule as long as they remain employed by the district. They can choose to opt into the “performance salary schedule” but once they have done so they cannot return to the grandfathered salary schedule.

All employees hired after July 1, 2014 will be automatically placed on the performance salary schedule. It includes a base salary determined by the collective bargaining contract as well as salary adjustments based on a teacher’s label, i.e. highly effective, effective, needs improvement, or unsatisfactory. Only teachers receiving a highly effective or effective rating will receive a salary adjustment.

Teachers can also receive salary supplements which are different from adjustments in that a teacher can receive more money if they (1) teach at a Title 1 eligible school, (2) teach at an underperforming school, (3) teach a subject that is identified in a critical shortage area, or (4) if they take on additional jobs or responsibilities. And finally, the teacher contract system will change to be based on student performance and not on how long a teacher has been teaching (Just to note that this last point was hard to find. It was a one sentence change that adjusted existing statutes.)

Did you stick with me this far? Congratulations if you managed to do so. Now let’s talk turkey. I have three specific problems with this bill: its suggestions for evaluation, its (lack of) funding, and its sneaky removal of teachers’ bargaining rights. The Miami Herald gives a fairly accurate appraisal of the bill, specifically calling into question where the funding for this mandate is going to come from. Not only are districts going to have to pay teachers more in adjustments and supplements, but they are also going to have to pay to develop new student assessments to fill the gaps left by the FCAT for other subjects as well as students with special needs. Where will districts find this money? With budget cuts for education at the state level at almost 10% and no hope for tax increases, revenue can only come from cuts at the local level and possibly a really good bake sale.

On the issue of teacher evaluation I feel that it is extremely reckless to tie 50% of a teacher’s performance rating to the performance of their students. As I have stated before it is irresponsible to ignore that students’ performance is based in large part on their home environment and the support they receive there. To ignore such variables as socioeconomic status or ethnicity is to ignore key factors in educational success. But returning to the point, while I agree that student performance in general can be an indicator of a teacher’s effectiveness, there are too many other variables involved to make it 50% of their evaluation.

The bill also makes every teacher’s contract a one-year deal and allows for the district to terminate them at any time for any reason (basically you have a provisional, beginning teacher’s contract forever). When added to the ever in flux performance pay schedule you find that teachers can essentially no longer bargain for higher salaries or different contract terms. In essence the rug has been pulled out from under them in one fell swoop.

Some thoughts:

1. Who is going to work in an underperforming school? The offer of a supplement can’t possibly be enough to tempt decent teachers to take the chance on being labeled unsatisfactory or needs improvement based on their student performance. A teacher who gets highly effective scores/pay at one school is not likely to leave and teach at another school where the students put out low scores and put their pay at risk. Governor Scott has essentially set up currently under performing schools on a list for closure.

2. Scott is also a proponent of more charter schools, and where will teachers who want good pay want to go but to a school where students are accepted based on merit and talent and basically do the work for you? Then he can say “Look! Charter schools are growing like I said they would!” But what bout those underperforming schools governor? Are they attracting the best and brightest minds like you thought?

3. Scott was quoted by the Sunshine News as saying “We must recruit and retain the best people to make sure every classroom in Florida has a highly effective teacher.” Translation: We need to get rid of the crappy schools and set up a system that pushes bad students out and good students and teachers into charter and private schools so we can say every teacher is highly effective when really we are only serving high performing kids anyway! Good teachers are good teachers wherever they go, but you can’t change the clay they are given to work with, especially if you don’t give them the funding they need to moisten and shape the clay into what you expect.

We aren’t recognizing exceptional teachers with this bill. We are rewarding teachers shrewd enough to find jobs where they are guaranteed the pay raise due to the student population, and we are punishing already struggling schools and teachers with baseline salaries and a lack of support where students already struggle at home and at school and change is a deeper, sociological problem.

A side issue in this bill is how “specials” teachers (i.e. art, music, PE, library) are supposed to be paid, but that is where the extra assessments come in: since the FCAT doesn’t assess these areas districts will have to pay to have specialists develop approved assessments to be used to determine if progress has been made. This seems like the most vague portion of the bill and district may opt (as some Arizona schools did between 2003 and 2010) to simply chain these teachers to a grade level and base their performance pay on a teacher from that level. Doesn’t seem fair but the bill seems to allow for it as long as for those teachers the FCAT isn’t 50% of their evaluation. An interesting conundrum.

I wonder how long it will be before Scott proposes a lessening of the child labor laws in Florida much like Governor LePage has in Maine. All those poor, underperforming kids have to go somewhere right?

Today will be brief since I’ve been battling migraines since last Thursday. However over the weekend I was redeeming a gift certificate from Amazon.com for digital books and mp3 files and the differences in media consumption from 10 years ago to today boggled my mind.

As I browsed on Amazon I could chose individual songs or entire albums. Books were much cheaper digitally and I could preview different portions. This technology has been available for some time, but it made me consider its effect on the actual music production business. 10 years ago most people would purchase music on CDs, a collection of 15-25 songs that usually included 1-5 singles that would be marketed to radio stations. So if you heard a song on the radio that you enjoyed you could either buy the single on a CD or spend a little more and get the entire album.

This method basically ensured that new music was getting out there, that more songs than just the uber-popular songs you heard on the radio were getting to people. This is so important for the future of popular music. Less popular songs can push a genre forward, creating new popular radio songs and newer “other” songs that ask more questions and propose different musical approaches.

Now many people receive their music via any number of music distribution websites: Napster, iTunes, Amazon; and can now choose to purchase only the songs they hear and enjoy on the radio or at the club and bypass the remainder of the album. If you have been in an FYE, Target, or Wal-Mart you know that CDs haven’t gone the way of the A-Trak just yet, but how much longer until musical artists are recording one song at a time instead of full albums? It already seems as if popular music is racing towards the lowest, basest, most common denominator. I can only imagine what it will become if  artists are no longer motivated to create songs off the beaten path.

This technology is amazing in that it helps me create my exercise track list without spending a fortune, which I would have had to do just 7-10 years ago to get the songs I wanted. Instead I spent what I would have spent on one CD to make a list of 15 songs from what was at least 10 other albums. As is the case with any technological advance, your life does become more convenient and efficient. Despite this we should always ask “At what cost?”

A point that has not remained un-belabored on this blog has been that any movement, however insignificant, can contribute significantly to weight loss. Anything from walking to the mailbox to running a marathon can add up if done regularly and for enough time.

One activity that 39% of US households are generally obligated to participate in is walking their dog. The Humane Society of the United States reported in 2009 that 39% of households own at least one dog. So it stands to reason that these people would get daily exercise as a consequence of taking their furry friends to relieve themselves, right?

Mathew Reeves, an associate professor of epidemiology at Michigan State University, published a study in the March Issue of the Journal of Physical Activity and Health which explored whether owning a dog increased the likelihood of the owner having better exercise habits. Time Online outlines the results very well here.

Results showed that out of all the dog owners who took their pet on regular walks lasting 10 minutes or more, 60% of them met minimum federal requirements for moderate to vigorous exercise. Almost 50% of these dog walkers also reported exercising 30 minutes a day for at least 5 days a week. When compared to participants who did not own dogs, owners had higher overall levels of activity, including dancing, gardening, and playing sports.

A study that came out of the University of Missouri last year showed that dogs are generally better walking companions than humans and that dog walkers showed a great improvement in fitness than participants who walked alone or with other people. A suggested reason for these findings was that humans could talk each other out of exercise or complain about walking conditions, but dogs would walk happily until their human was finished.

It is important to note that correlation doesn’t always result in a statement of causation. Owning a dog will not make you instantly more fit or improve your exercise regimen. This Michigan study showed that not everyone who owns dogs walks them, and some who did didn’t walk them long enough to accrue the amount of minutes necessary for moderate fitness (i.e. 150 minutes of walking per week, or 10 minute walks 3 times a day, 5 days a week). Despite these facts it cannot be ignored that in many cases dogs will get you moving when you might not otherwise choose to do so.

Yet another study which backs up the notion that you don’t have to sweat to get fit. I love the idea that if I walk with my dog twice a day for ten minutes a piece I could rack up 140 minutes of exercise a week. That is an awfully big number that is easily obtained doing something I have to do anyway (and that I enjoy doing besides!). So enjoy your puppies, give them lots of walks and get fit in the process.

Eat less and move more! And moving can be twice as fun with your best furry friend at your side. See you tomorrow!

A play on Debbie Does Dallas, today’s post focuses on teachers’ past professions, and how we decide who is worthy to teach our children and who is not. My local hip hop morning show covered a story about a teacher being fired because her past in the porn profession had been discovered. If the news out of St. Louis (where this took place) is to be believed, she actually asked for administrative leave but in the business that conversation basically shook down to this:

Administrator: We can’t technically fire you because you didn’t do anything illegal, but now that this is public it would probably be better for you to resign.

Teacher: Okay.

Tericka Dye (and that isn’t her porn name) taught high school science in the Parkway School District in St. Louis. She is 38 years old and more than 15 years ago (for the math challenged that puts her at about age 23) she lived in California and made some adult movies to get by as a single mom.

This isn’t the first time Dye has come under attack for this. In 2006 she worked in Kentucky as a science teacher and volleyball coach, and even though her fellow teachers stood beside her, she decided to move on to another state.

23 years old only came about 5 years ago for me and some of the decisions I made then are still affecting me today. This woman is almost 40 years old and is still being punished for a job choice she made in the mid-90s. It wasn’t illegal, so it didn’t show up on the background check, but because it is morally shady parents and administrators don’t want her around the kids. For something she did 15 years ago.

You guys realize she’s not showing the kids porn, right? She’s not making a porn in front of them? Why can’t this be used as a teachable moment, where the kids learn that teachers aren’t virgins and saints and they don’t have to be either as long as they learn from their mistakes. Schools all across the country still require teachers to avoid alcohol, adult toy shops, and some of the more religious schools even forbid their teachers from dancing and watching rated R movies.

Do you know how hard it is to become a high school science teacher? It’s one of the more difficult tracks in an education degree, the students have to have content knowledge in chemistry, biology, and physics in addition to learning about pedagogy and classroom management. And in a world that is typically reserved for men (high school teaching), Dye had to have been pretty smart and determined to not only teach high school science, but to go from one school rejecting her to another, just to face the same rejection again.

Other members of society who do highly illegal things face the same persecution, but they are usually caught on background checks before they are even hired: felons, murderers, child molesters; if their past is on record, chances are they won’t end up in front of your children. Dye’s past is on record, but it’s old and not illegal. Yet she also isn’t allowed into a profession for which she has been deemed qualified in two separate states (Kentucky and Missouri).

This story comes with three lessons. Two are the hard truth and one speaks to a deep sociological problem in this country.

1. Children need to be taught that ALL actions have consequences. Whether you do something at age 15, 21, or 50 that action could have the potential to haunt you for the rest of your life.

2. The interwebz has a memory like an elephant and arms like an octopus that grab all information past and present and put it out there for people to see. The internet is dangerous, so be careful what you do and what you put up on it (in this case Dye probably didn’t choose to have her past on display, but since she probably signed some kind of a waiver back then she doesn’t have a choice now either.)

3. This obsession that America has with its teachers has got to change. We have the same expectations for teacher behavior now (more or less) than we did in the 1950s or even the late 19th century. We complain about a teacher shortage but we get rid of perfectly good teachers who have done something that we find morally displeasing. We want students learning math and science and winning the future!TM but we’re getting rid of their teachers for moral reasons instead of performance issues or criminal problems. It reminds me of the translator discharges in the military due to their sexual orientation when the government was bemoaning the lack of translators.

I’m not saying that we should let everyone who wants to be a teacher teach. Some people do have backgrounds that are not suited to public employment, especially in education. However if someone has done nothing illegal, is a responsible adult who is a good teacher who shows up to work and likes her job, why are we punishing her for something she did as a child? Why aren’t we screaming “justice!” and saying that she took her second chance and earned a new chance at life? Why isn’t someone suing the pants off of someone and demanding equal treatment? Why does the former adult film star simply hang her head and walk quietly into the night when she should either (a) be demanding to keep her job, or (b) be demanding to have her photos taken off the internet (although at this point that would be difficult I think) as they are slandering her and interfering with her ability to live her life.

We can’t all be 40 year old virgins whose parents paid for our college and helped us get that internship that landed us a great job at the firm of our dreams. Some Americans grow up in a broken home, try to get away, find their only employment making adult movies so they can support the child they had out of wedlock, and once they make enough money they manage to get out of that trap as well to become certified as a teacher and discover that they love teaching and coaching. Come on guys, isn’t that essentially pulling yourself up by the bootstraps (or g-string, depending)? Didn’t this woman do what every American is encouraged to do?

When are we going to start letting go of these ridiculous stereotypes? When is America going to unclench her asshole and realize that some people just want to live normal lives? Ms. Dye doesn’t want to donkey punch your child. She just wants to teach them about how electricity works.

Music Monday usually has a bit of a rap and hip hop flavor, but this week I’m focusing more on the composition of the lyrics of a particular song, instead of the content or the musical genre.

Keri Hilson burst onto the scene in 2009 with a very good first album. Her single “Turning Me On” has a great beat, is full of attitude, and is very catchy for all the right reasons. She also did a lot of work with Timbaland, including the single “The Way I Are” which was pretty awesome despite the grammatical errors. Her work with Kanye West on the song “Knock Me Down” is probably her most famous single. All this indicates that Ms. Hilson has talent and a future in the business.

Moving on to her second album, I have a bone to pick with her song “Pretty Girl Rock.” Let me be clear that I understand what she was trying to do with the music video: pay homage to female musical icons of the past by dressing up like them and therefore bringing attention to their accomplishments. That is spectacular, if you can get past the boring, pedantic, 4th grade poetry assignment of a song that it is set to. The video is up here on youtube for you to watch so you can see what I’m talking about.

Let’s pretend I’m a 4th grade teacher and I give my students the following assignment:

1. You have to write a poem.
2. It has to rhyme every two lines. (I’m not an English major so I don’t know how to be any more specific than that.)
3. The subject is to describe how you are beautiful or handsome and that the world should recognize your individuality.

Here goes…

***

My name is Amanda,
I can’t stand ta,
Stand in line,
Any longer than I have ta.

So I do my hair up,
Even do my makeup,
Then I flash a smile so that
I get a fast coff-ee cup.

My clothes, my hair,
They make you stare,
So best not keep me
Standin’ there.

Please serve me ’cause I’m beautiful,
Don’t hate me ’cause I’m beautiful.

***
That took me 5 minutes to write.

When I listen to Hilson’s single it makes me wonder what happened to the dynamic singles she had on her first album. I wondered the same thing about Taylor Swift whose first album I loved but her other albums I absolutely detest. I am not sure if this change in her style is reflective of the extent of her own talent or the limits of her listening audience, but I wish that Hilson had matched the admirable message sent by the music video with a song reflective of the depth of the musicians she is attempting to showcase.

Teaching Tuesday: Lip Service

I was going to to a synopsis of this article out of the Washington Post (yeah, I seem to be going there a lot lately) but I think that I need to just share my bare-bones reaction to it. Please enjoy staff writer Perry Bacon Jr.’s piece on Obama’s education tour.

President Obama continued his new push for education reform in a speech here Tuesday, the second in a series of education events the White House is planning over the next month.

For readers who are unaware, the federal government actually had little to nothing to do with American public school education. Most education policy is determined at the state and local level, and any policies enacted at the federal level are either to determine how funding is distributed to take some kind of (impotent) stance on how education should be run.

Standing in front of the blue “Winning the Future” banner that now appears at almost all of his events, Obama called for increased funding for education, arguing the United States needs a better-educated workforce to ensure it remains economically competitive.

I cannot explain in clear enough terms how exceptionally retarded this slogan is. Winning the future is akin to trying to hold the ocean in a bucket, you can’t do it because you a) don’t have the tools necessary and b) don’t know how much  you are really dealing with. Additionally, if you are looking for a better educated workforce you are going to have to push more than reading and math. This is going to require a drastic overhaul of American education, an overhaul that the federal government can only suggest is necessary.

In his appearance at a gym at TechBoston Academy, an innovative school for students in grades 6 to 12, he specifically proposed a competitive grant program that would reward money to companies that have the best ideas for using computer software and other technologies in education.

Defending his goal to increase education spending as many in Washington focus on the budget deficit, Obama said, “There’s nothing responsible about cutting back on investments in these young people.”

Two things: 1) Obama talks about rewarding money to companies that come up with good educational technology ideas, and 2) It is difficult to discuss cutting back on education funding at the federal level when the majority of education funding occurs at the state level. Better to talk about how there is nothing responsible about cutting back on investments in the standard of living for the poor, elderly, or abused…but I guess that doesn’t fit in to the pretty education discussion that draws attention away from the ugly decisions yet to come that lose elections.

And please, let’s give companies more money. That would be great.

The Obama administration is pushing for a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind law by the end of the year, as well as increased funding for education in the 2012 federal budget. It’s unclear if either goal will be accomplished; Republicans in Congress are trying to cut funding in education and other programs for the rest of the 2011 budget and have given little indication they would support increased money in the near future.

And No Child Left Behind, the federal education law that passed with support from both Democrats and Republicans in 2002, has not been embraced by some of the new conservative members of Congress, who argue it has given the federal government too large of a role in education policy.

I have to side with the Republicans here. Until there is a constitutional amendment which guarantees fair and equal education to all citizens the federal government has been pushing its limits on what it can mandate that schools do. They have gotten around it by saying it is a way to determine who received different forms of funding, but really more needs to be done to insure that certain states (I’m looking at you Indiana, Florida, and Arizona) don’t run their public education systems into the ground in favor of charter and private schools.

“This year, we’re going to have to work with Congress to fix No Child Left Behind,” Obama said here. “We’re going to replace it with a law that does a better job focusing on responsibility, reform and most of all, results.”

Although he has sharply distanced himself from his predecessor on most issues, Obama is promoting an agenda on education very similar to that of former President George W. Bush.

The centerpiece of No Child Left Behind, annual testing of students in reading and math, is backed by the Obama administration, even though many teachers and parents have complained about the testing component since the law’s creation in 2002.

Other Bush policies now in Obama’s education blueprint are strict accountability for schools, including replacing principals and staff if their students consistently perform poorly on standardized tests; strong support for charter schools; and greater efforts to closely evaluate teachers.

I am going to punch the next politician who alludes to schools being factories that need to put out results. I will keep saying this until someone listens: Teachers are not the only force working on students to produce “results.” This focus on bad teachers and the effort to more closely evaluate teachers is ignoring the more important (and more sensitive) problem of the home-life of the American student. But don’t come into my house and tell me how to raise my kids! It’s much easier and less messy to punish the people who are underpaid and under appreciated for the fact that students only show up 3 days a week to school underfed, tired, and with no homework completed. GIVE US RESULTS DAMMIT!!

On another very basic level the testing emphasis of our present system teaches students to be ready for very definite questions in a controlled setting, two conditions which rarely exist in the workforce or even in real life. Teachers and parents are complaining about the testing component for good reason: it emphasizes basic memorization and neglects critical thinking and individuality. But hey, it gives us neat percentages and RESULTS!!!one!!!11!!

But Obama wants to change the law in ways that would reduce the number of schools defined as “failing” and target funding for persistently low-performing schools.

Yes, please, let’s find a way to inflate yet another grading system. No one should fail! Everyone is a winner! That shitty school in inner-city Phoenix is just a special snowflake in need of special care and not an intellectual wasteland in need of serious social and structural reform. Let’s throw more money at it too. If we dress it up in dollar signs no one will notice that nothing has changed.

In Boston, Obama avoided getting these kinds of details. Instead, before his formal speech, he toured the school with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Melinda Gates, the wife of Microsoft founder Bill Gates. The couple’s non-profit foundation has donated money to TechBoston, which gives each student a laptop and requires them to take four years of math, science and technology classes.

TechBoston, like the Miami high school visited by Obama last week, is a school with a high percentage of low-income and minority students that is improving test scores and outperforming other schools in its city.

“I wanted to come to TechBoston so the rest of American could see how its done,” Obama said.

Good job Obama. You saw how things are done at a school that requires an application and targets high-performing low-income and minority students. Because they are poor and black/brown it makes it extra impressive that the school is so awesome, right?  “Look at what these poor, minority students are doing. This school must be miraculous if they are producing these kids of results!”  How disgusting is something like that coming from our first African American president. Those innovative techniques and high grades and impressive improvements are all a result of stacking the deck with students who want to be there and have the aptitude to perform at technological subjects such as math or science. Plus it’s easy to see if they are minorities. Too bad you don’t dare venture into an actual inner-city school who is trying to get it done and has to accept every member of the unwashed masses who walk through the door. Blowing the shofar for charter and specialty schools only works so long as no one notices that not every student is allowed to go there. If they were, the school would become as average as your typical public school and would have to offer a wider array of subject to cater to the more intellectually diverse population.

Someone is running for re-election, and as long as he can keep saying “winning” and “children” and “future” and “education” he has something to lean on that will counter “lower taxes!” and “He’s a Muslim!” As long as he visits the best and brightest “public” schools (and I use that term lightly, if it requires an application or a wait list it isn’t purely public) and doesn’t highlight the Real American Schools (Real America TM, Sarah Palin 2008) we can avoid the hard truth: that the real system that is broken in our country isn’t our government, it is the system that is responsible for our youth. Unfortunately no one is willing to sacrifice their political capital to fix it. Better to just throw the teachers out with the bathwater, to send the kids who can hack it to charter or private schools with vouchers, and the kids who would muck up the system were just going to work at McDonald’s anyway right? Sounds good.

Music Monday: New Jazz

Over the weekend Washington Post writer Matt Schudel wrote a piece entitled “Kennedy Center’s Jazz Season Could Use More Variety and Experimentation.” This made me think that Schudel would be criticizing the Center for a back to basics approach rather than pushing the art form forward. Instead I was treated to a history lesson in addition to a rundown of the season’s events.

Schudel began with an introduction of Billy Taylor who was a major player in the large-scale jazz festivals and and concerts that occurred at the Center for the past forty years. He passed away in December of 2010, and so the Kennedy Center is planning a festival and concert in his honor which will be titled “Swing, Swing, Swing.” Jon Hendricks and Manhattan Transfer will be there and the plan is to open up a huge dance floor for participants complete with instructors on the sidelines for beginners.

Other parts of the larger 2011-2012 jazz season at the center include vocals, woodwinds, and strings and the full schedule can be viewed HERE. Get your tickets early!

Schudel criticized two aspects of the season. First, he stated that the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival was too typical in that it will be featuring all too familiar faces. He calls for an expansion to the artist lineup to include new, up-and-coming artists such as vocalist Wesla Whitfield or trumpeter Ingrid Jensen. Secondly he called for the integration of a Latin Jazz festival that will pay homage to the influence of the Caribbean on American jazz.

As can be seen in the slow death of the orchestra in this country, jazz seem to be slowly moving towards worship of “the greats” in lieu of opening up roads for the development of new greats. This is, of course, a blanket statement and I do not mean to say that there are not many excellent programs across the country dedicated to teaching students and bringing them up within the tradition. But the key is just that: tradition. These bright new artists, what are they playing? Miles Davis? Charlie Parker? Louis Armstrong? What are they singing? Fitzgerald? Holiday?

Looking at the 2011-2012 season I see tributes to Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Django Reinhardt, Duke Ellington, and with the artists who don’t describe the music they will be playing I can only imagine that “classics” form a strong foundation in their repertoire. The question I have posed of music teachers and that I will pose here is: What happens when a reliance on the classics drowns out the development of the new? Does anyone know what musical period we are currently in? What kind of jazz is played most often in clubs or in concert?

“Classical” music (used here to describe any music of the Western Classical Tradition i.e. romantic, baroque, classical, etc.) faces this problem today. Many symphonies face budget crises as patrons basically grow old and die, while the larger symphonies (New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, any military ensemble) have either very rich patrons or other organizations to fund their endeavors.

Jazz is such a malleable musical art form, more so than its stuffy classical cousin, and is better suited for change over time. It would be a shame to become stuck between 1900 and 1970 with no room to go forward but to continue to recycle again and again the same routines. While there isn’t anything new under the sun, jazz holds the key to making us forget that this is true. I hope that the field continues to use more variety and experimentation, as Schudel suggests, so that one of the few truly American art forms does not become inconsequential.

Despite being approximately 100 pounds overweight I manage to exercise at least 4 days every week, alternating between hour long yoga sessions and 30 minutes of running in preparation for my next 5K on April 2nd. Despite this respectable routine I don’t seem to shed pounds any faster than I was when I wasn’t exercising. My eating isn’t changing, and with my metabolism (hopefully) speeding up you would think the weight would begin to come off, right?

This is where the excuses usually come in: muscle weighs more than fat, you’re retaining water from the muscle breakdown and regrowth, you might have eaten more because “exercise makes you hungry.” We’ve heard or said them all. In an effort to push past all of the excuses we can return to the basic mantra of “eat less and move more” or burn more calories than you take in.

Most exercise machines have a small chart on them that indicates a “fat burning zone” which indicates the heart rate relative to your age and weight that will burn the most fat. All that it really means is that if you stick with that heart rate you are just high enough to exert yourself (it’s usually walking at a brisk pace if you are overweight) but not so high that you can’t keep it up for a long time. The key is to do an activity for long enough to burn enough calories to make a difference. In my case whether I walk for an hour or run for 30 minutes I’m going to burn the same amount of calories. I might as well burn those calories training for something fun, plus I’m only spending 30 minutes doing it instead of 60. Not everyone has this choice, and it is for that reason that the heart rate charts exist. They give people hope: “If I keep my heart rate at 125 for an hour I’ll burn some fat.”

So the next time you try to get over-fancy about your weight loss efforts, remember that if you are moving purposefully you are burning calories, and if you are burning calories and not taking in any more in food than you usually would, then you are going to lose weight. I don’t care if you move for 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or 60 minutes. You can do it without charts, machines, personal trainers, fancy weights or anything. If you can walk or run you can do it. You don’t need to know how many times your heart beats in a minute. (Disclaimer: if you have unusually high blood pressure you may actually need to track your heart rate. Always see a doctor if you have questions about starting a weight loss/exercise regimen.)