28 July 2007
27 July 2007
I am speaking, of course, of Mayor Fenty's takeover of DC schools.
Buried in freebie-rag The Examiner's Friday story about the failure of many DC public schools to make NCLB Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is the following revealing statement:
But aides to the mayor now say they didn’t realize what they were getting into when they moved to take over the stricken schools and are quietly moving to dampen public expectations for reform.
Huh? All these fools needed to do was ask any involved parent out there and they could have found out the state of DC schools. Did Fenty think he would wave his magic wand, sprinkle pixie dust all over the schools, hire a former school teacher with only three years' experience to run the schools (by the way, it generally takes more experience to become eligible for principal positions, let alone system head positions), and voila! we have school reform?
I actually think he did believe that.
I suppose that instead of studying the state of DC schools, the mayor and his cohorts were out touring other school districts and stealing printed material to pass off as their own. Let's not forget that Deputy Mayor for Education Victor Reinoso couldn't even be bothered to write his own plan for reforming the schools, or that Rhee couldn't substantiate some of the more impressive claims of her resume, not that the city council cared a whole lot.
Critics of the plan who saw the takeover as a done deal still advised Fenty to keep Janey, who remains the only DCPS Superintendent not to run away from the job in the last decade plus. Fenty, you may recall, unceremoniously fired Janey in a midnight phone call.
Now DC parents and students are being told, "Sorry, we weren't actually aware of what we were doing, but you all can suffer because we're pompous assholes. Don't expect much." I am, of course, paraphrasing, as I don't have the mayor's aides' words in front of me.
[I could now launch into a diatribe about the idiocy of bringing business models to education, the ideological failure of libertarian education approaches, the hubris of politicians who believe experience is a liability, etc., but see my last post about the constraints of time...perhaps another day. Additionally, I could include a paragraph about the trustworthiness of the Examiner, which in the very same issue refers to "acclaimed author" David Horowitz...D.Ho is hardly an acclaimed author, unless of course you count ill-researched alarmist right-wing claptrap as worthy of acclaim. If you'd care to see him take yet another verbal beat-down, check here.]
26 July 2007
1. It's gotten busier at work. I've been spending more time at work and as a result I have less disposable time. I'm really hoping this situation is temporary, as I do not appreciate working so hard.
2. More extracurriculars. The summer has been too busy by far. Summer is supposed to be a time of relaxation and recovery, but so far it's been very little of either. Drama at my son's school, illnesses, even a family wedding (yeah, I know, family weddings are supposedly prime blogging fodder, but...I've got nothing) have taken up too much time.
3. Children apparently don't understand, "OK. Time to go to bed." The past few weeks it has been 10 or 10:30, which means I'm falling asleep too and waking up sometime around 1:30 a.m. before dragging myself out of one of the kids' beds and into my own. Not very conducive to that nice evening reflective time (and even productive time) my wife and I used to enjoy.
As a result, I've missed a few things I've wanted to talk about, which I'll list out:
1. Going to see EMERGENCE-See at Arena stage. The show closed last weekend, but it was amazing. Daniel Beaty was high energy and fantastic rolling through character after character as he used the device of a slave ship rising out of the waters near the Statue of Liberty to take on the legacy of slavery on Black experiences in America (experiences plural because one thing Beaty makes clear in his performance is that nothing is singular about Black lives -- or any other lives for that matter).
2. My son's love for Charlie Chaplin films. In the past few weeks we've watched The Kid, Modern Times, and City Lights (thank you, NetFlix). He takes great joy in the physical humor Chaplin brings across and he also asks some interesting questions about the themes. He loves the self-feeding machine in Modern Times...
3. Various and miscellaneous. The usual garbage I write about Dear Leader's latest lies (can you by the way believe Tony Snow? I mean, press secretaries are by definition liars, but I do believe he takes the cake for the ballsiest lying imaginable), the state of education in the District, and other gems.
23 July 2007
At one point, in fact in the final afternoon of the novel, Stephanos serves a tourist couple then abandons his store to follow them at a distance as they walk along P Street to Dupont Circle. At Dupont, Stephanos lies down in the grass and stares up at the sky, while his store remains untended and unlocked. Eventually he wanders back toward Logan Circle, but the novel ends with his not returning to the store, instead preserving in his mind a more idealized vision of the store and leaving us with the idea that even if he hasn't found his way forward, his life as a shopkeeper is over.
16 July 2007
Kristol's paean to Bush has the unbelievable title of "Why Bush Will Be a Winner," which should be clue #1 that we are nowhere in the land of reality but rather have moved to Cloud Cuckooland with the neocons...where the "free" market fixes everything and all you have to do is explain to the benighted masses democracy at the end of a gun barrel and -- voila! -- you have tiny little idealistic Americas everywhere.
To understand just how out of touch Kristol is, you have to look at the contortions he makes to avoid telling the truth about Bush's failed Presidency:
What about terrorism? Apart from Iraq, there has been less of it, here and abroad, than many experts predicted on Sept. 12, 2001. So Bush and Vice President Cheney probably are doing some important things right. The war in Afghanistan has gone reasonably well.
Oh, yeah, "apart from Iraq." Yes, apart from the biggest blunder any President has made since Johnson trumped up the Gulf of Tonkin incident, terrorism is down. And if I discount all the miserably decrepit falling down, understaffed, failing schools in DC, DC has a top-notch school system. And what "experts" could Kristol be talking about? His own cadre of neo-imperialists, who jumped on 9-11 as an excuse to go after anyone they felt didn't toe the American line and attempted to relabel anyone operating outside the law as a terrorist (remember how people who smoked marijuana were really just terrorist sympathizers), most likely. So sure, I suppose if you count Kristol's cabal of reality-deniers as experts, you can easily arrive at the conclusion that Bush's crackdown on U.S. citizens' Constitutional rights has been an overwhelming success. And then he dares talk about the war in Afghanistan (remember that sidelight? the most notable thing to come out of that war has been the ongoing revelations of the government's cover-up of the Pat Tillman death.) as going "reasonably well." What the hell? In Afghanistan we have a pro-US government that nearly everyone sees as a puppet government with a head of state who can't venture outside a small section of Kabul without risking death from one of several tribal or religious factions around the country. I suppose if you compare it to Iraq, it is going "reasonably well." But I forgot: Kristol's trying to leave Iraq to the side...
Except he doesn't. He comes around in the end to argue that Bush's policies are finally leading the way to victory in Iraq (oooo...and what if we hadn't gone in....well Saddam would still be in charge...and then it becomes a playground of speculative bullshit that even Kristol has to admit is, well, speculative bullshit), yet he makes assertions that are so far removed from reality that you almost think you're reading The Onion. Except The Onion is funny. Just read these choice paragraphs to get a sense of how he's lost his:
With the new counterinsurgency strategy announced on Jan. 10, backed up by the troop "surge," I think the odds are finally better than 50-50 that we will prevail. We are routing al-Qaeda in Iraq, we are beginning to curb the Iranian-backed sectarian Shiite militias and we are increasingly able to protect more of the Iraqi population.
If we sustain the surge for a year and continue to train Iraqi troops effectively, we can probably begin to draw down in mid- to late 2008. The fact is that military progress on the ground in Iraq in the past few months has been greater than even surge proponents like me expected, and political progress is beginning to follow.
Where do you even begin with this lunacy? Outside the Kool-Aid drinking Bush administration lackeys, no one believes the surge has made any sort of impact on the situation in Iraq. Does he think the same people who read his column are somehow turning blind eyes to the news coming out of Iraq (another 80+ killed in car bombings today...despite Kristol's smug assertions). But I hope you also noticed his little hedge about beginning a drawdown in 2008, which just happens to be the time period that opponents of the Bush strategy are talking about drawdown. Kristol's strategy, now as always, is to tell the Big Lie but leave yourself an out.
Remember that it's bitter, blinder-addled, malicious old men like Kristol who are making the noises that this administration hears.
13 July 2007
It was also fun to see the central action of Hamlet pressed to the margins so the side characters and minor subplots could come out. At the Studio, the actor playing Hamlet put on a little campiness (not in a bad way) when he delivered one of Hamlet's leading and laden speeches to Polonius, and Floyd King's turn as the debauched Player is tremendous. The leads are both great, and I can only imagine how exhausting that play must be for the two of them, as they are both on stage nearly the entire time (really...the entire time, with one or two breaks that might be long enough to catch their breath).
Seriously, go see it.
The interesting thing to me about Shakespeare Theatre's production of Hamlet is that I last saw them produce Hamlet with Wallace Acton in the lead, and if you've ever seen Wallace Acton in a leading role, you tend to think he's the perfect actor for the part. He did an amazing Ariel in The Tempest several years ago, and a chilling Richard III (the most recent Shakespeare Theatre production of Richard III was so dead to me that my wife and I actually walked out of the theatre at intermission, and we've never done that before, even when she was ill with the inappropriately named "morning sickness" before our son was born), but sadly Wallace Acton is no longer in Washington, having deserted our little backwater for the bright lights of New York City.
So I was worried that I wouldn't find this Hamlet so very good in Hamlet. Not true, not true. Jeffrey Carlson's Hamlet comes across as far more disturbed than Acton's portrayal, and while Acton's Hamlet emphasized the calculating side of the Prince with occasional bursts of mania, Carlson plays the mania up with occasional bursts of calculation. It's a powerful performance, which is good, since the play is over three hours long. Michelle Beck's Ophelia is very good and in my mind highlights a recent trend at the Shakespeare Theatre: good actresses playing very solid roles with more depth than in the past. This production also brings forth the sexual interactions between the King and Queen, with one scene making it quite obvious that the two have been interrupted in the midst of lovemaking...ewww is pretty much what I thought.
Let me tell you, it's a busy month for theatre as far as I'm concerned. This weekend we're hitting the Imagination Stage production of The Araboolies of Liberty Street and then Arena Stage's EMERGENCE-See.
10 July 2007
Banks is brilliant at evoking the competing emotions and external forces that make our lives not our own, even while giving his characters the dignity and power of making whatever choices they can to make their lives their own. As Marx argues, "Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past." So Bob Dubois, a New Englander transplanted to Florida, finds himself caught up in a few dead end jobs, the effects of a pervasively racist society, and the difference between commitment and desire. In the novel's other storyline, Vanise Dorsinville, a Haitian refugee, finds herself, through a relative's almost trivial transgression, thrown into a chain of events that leads her through servitude, rape, and murder to Miami's Little Haiti.
Among the most disturbing aspects of the story is how little will Vanise seems to exhibit: she more or less accepts the fate supplied to her, as if she were an object that only moved when an outside force moved it, which in this case is often her nephew, Claude (whose transgression -- stealing a ham from a wrecked truck -- started their flight in motion). Her situation is harrowing, and Banks' point is well-taken: when you have nothing else to trade, your body is your sole commodity.
Bob learns as well that he has little to offer outside his own (laboring) body, first as a heating oil company repairman, then as a liquor store manager, and finally as a captain who leads recreational fishing tours on someone else's boat. He's made bad decisions by putting his faith in the promises of family and friends, and by the time he and Vanise's stories intersect, he has sacrificed his principles in a last hope to get his head above water.
The story has resonance with John Dos Passos's colossal USA Trilogy, especially the final book, The Big Money, where the characters lose their ways in pursuit of quick riches and power. It's an apt pairing, because both Banks and Dos Passos have been excellent chroniclers of the dreams and disasters of American life.
For my next book, I'm turning to the very recent The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, by Dinaw Mengestu. It was published this year and it's set in the Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC, and serves as both a chronicle of the immigrant experience and a tale of gentrification.
09 July 2007
Note that the gentleman who posed for this picture is holding a billyclub or nightstick or control bar or whatever the technical term is that cops use for the club they use. What isn't so evident from the poor photo I took is that the gentleman is also sporting a really cheesy moustache, the sort that some teenagers grow in high school.
So what's the excitement the advertisers allude to? Is it beating drunks over the head? Holding a prisoner up against the wall with your nightstick? Hmm. It may be time to think of Barthes' Mythologies to delve deeper into this mystery.
05 July 2007
For some reason Banksy's site is not loading properly, so I couldn't get a picture of some of his gallery hangings, but I'm putting my money on Banksy being more like the Dadaists, the Fauvists, and the Pop Artists than a passing fancy.
03 July 2007
And so, Scooter Libby avoided jail time when the titular head of the executive branch exercised his Constitutional right to pardon or commute convicted criminals. Every President does it, although generally not in such an obviously partisan and blatantly uncalled for way. Usually a President waits until the end of his term before turning to the business of pardons, and then the pardons are doled out to relatively obscure figures, perhaps tertiary attractions to the main show, but Bush went straight to the payback for Libby sitting there and taking it on the chin for the most corrupt administration since Richard Nixon's.
Speaking of which, the Libby commutation is perhaps even filthier than Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon for "any crimes he may have committed against the United States while President" -- about as broad a whitewashing as you can imagine.
Bonus points for anyone who can identify the origin of my post's title.
02 July 2007
Let's try to pretend that we still think logically.
Here's the situation. Your local mayor (remember, this is hypothetical: it could be any mayor) has requested control of the school district, and to advance his cause he hires someone to write a comprehensive strategy for the his school reform plan. Unfortunately, that person steals nearly one-third of the final plan from another school district, an act that in education circles is referred to as "plagiarism" and generally warrants a failing grade for the offender (in this case the miscreant has not only not been punished, but also he's not even interested in explaining himself).
Just pretend something that crazy happened. Then pretend that despite this early signal that the mayor was not exactly capable of overseeing such a complex operation as a real school system if he couldn't even get together a good original one on paper, the city council approves the takeover.
I know, I know. Just pretend.
Now suppose then that the mayor, having been granted power over the schools, makes a midnight appointment without consulting a panel that was to be able to give feedback on the nomination -- in violation of the specific directives of the School Takeover Act that he championed -- and that the nominee was a former classroom teacher with three years experience in the classroom and about a decade's experience as a headhunter...you'd think he was joking.
But remember...we're still in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe...so let's say everyone takes him seriously and the city council decides to hold confirmation hearings.
Then it comes out that some very very specific accomplishments listed on the nominee's resume can't be substantiated. We're not talking about whether the sun was shining on a particular day or whether she took five or six steps to reach the refrigerator from the dining room...no, we're talking about percentile numbers on student achievement tests. It sounds ludicrous, doesn't it, to make claims about something that is so concrete, so specific. Yet here we are.
Apparently, Michelle Rhee, trying to make the most of her scant three years inside a classroom, claimed on her resume that she had made remarkable improvements in the students' test scores in Baltimore. However, she didn't simply claim that the scores improved; she gave very specific numbers, as the Post story tells us:
Rhee's résumé asserts that the students made a dramatic gain: "Over a two-year period, moved students scoring on average at the 13th percentile on national standardized tests to 90 percent of students scoring at the 90th percentile or
OK. Those numbers have to come from somewhere, right? I mean, unless you're just making them up. I mean, test scores are things that school districts document, prospective parents and teachers research, and government bodies tend to track (even before the days of NCLB). Yet, Rhee either thinks we're really stupid or she quite honestly just "guessed" that her student's improved so dramatically:
"When people say, 'Do you have documentation?', I've been saying no," Rhee said yesterday. "I think this is an important thing going forward for teachers to have documents to say, 'This is what the data look like.' My lesson is: How do we set up a system so teachers can have this kind of information on their students?"
Say what? You have absolutely no evidence for a major claim on your resume, the one experience you have in direct classroom instruction, and you think the lesson is that teacher's need to have documentation? How about, "the lesson is I shouldn't lie on my resume"? Because I have news for Rhee: teachers do have that kind of information on their students, at least in DCPS, because the good ones use it to target instruction. They've had that data on my child in every teacher conference I've ever attended. So if the lesson Michelle Rhee takes from her false statements is that we need to set up a system, then she's missed the boat before she's even begun. The system is already there, and I'm not clear on how lying on your resume is related to creating another system for making teachers aware of their students' progress.
I have no faith in the DC City Council to do the right thing -- they are a pathetic lot who have almost no political backbone and their major interest lies in posturing and preening -- but what makes this entire episode so upsetting to me is that the mayor's grand plan, his revolution in education, is looking more and more like the same politics as usual.
Maybe multiple instances of dishonesty from those who would be leaders of this new education experiment inspire the faith of the Council, but not me.