Friday, April 22, 2011

The Lure of the Market

Market reforms have a certain appeal to some of those who are accustomed to "seeing like a state." There is something comforting about the belief that the invisible hand of the market, as Adam Smith called it, will bring improvements through some unknown force. In education, this belief in market forces lets us ordinary mortals off the hook, especially those who have not figured out how to improve low-performing schools or to break through the lassitude of unmotivated teens. Instead of dealing with rancorous problems like how to teach reading or how to improve testing, one can redesign the management and structure of the school system and concentrate on incentives and sanctions. One need not know anything about children or education. The lure of the market is the idea that freedom from government regulation is a solution all by itself. This is very appealing, especially when so many seemingly well-planned school reforms have failed to deliever on their promise.

The new corporate reformers betray their weak comprehension of education by drawing false analogies between education and business. They think they can fix education by applying the principles of business, organization, management, law, and marketing and by developing a good data-collection system that provides the information necessary to incentivize the workforce - principals, teachers, and students - with appropriate rewards and sanctions.
Diane Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, (New York: Basic Books, 2010), 11.
Very, very interesting argument regarding using market-based reforms and ideas to solve the woes of education. Can ideas aimed at cut-throat, bottom-line, make a dollar goals truly help educate young men and women into the adults we desire them to be? Education is more than simply getting kids to pass tests. It is about developing their thought process, helping them socially connect with a variety of peers, challenging their personal beliefs, developing their work ethic, building character, and learning about subject matter that is crucial to their overall well-being as citizens. Market based thought eliminates this, though, and makes test scores the only authority on success within the classroom. As a teacher in that system I become far more focused on test results than student care. In the business world, the customer and their needs does not matter. What matters is that I make money - generally speaking by any means necessary. Pushing that type of thought process into education might produce higher test scores but cuts short on our development of tomorrow's generation(s).

In addition, how do incentives and merit based pay help make me a better educator? I guess the answer to that question is tied into your stance on what education should be doing. If I am only trying to get a test score, tying my pay up into the level of those scores seems like a great idea. I will push and push and find whatever means necessary to get the test results to boost my salary. However, if my goal is to produce more well-rounded citizens...I quickly lose sight of that goal when it becomes obvious that I am not being measured on it. There is some validity to encouraging teachers through incentives - however, it must be tied up into how well a teacher is producing the type of student and young adult we want to build the future of America upon. So what is your view of what success in a classroom is? What type of student do you want to see? And do you believe the cut-throat mentality of the corporate world will somehow, someway produce those results?

Do oil companies care about ordinary citizens?

Rational Thinking

What should we think of someone who never admits error, never entertains doubt but adheres unflinchingly to the same ideas all his life, regardless of new evidence? Doubt and skepticism are signs of rationality. When we are too certain of our opinions, we run the risk of ignoring any evidence that conflicts with our views. It is doubt that shows we are still thinking, still willing to reexamine hardened beliefs when confronted with new facts and new evidence.
Diane Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, (New York: Basic Books, 2010), 2.

It is fun (and at times painful!) to look back at my life over the past 10 years or so and see how much I have changed, adapted, and grown. My beliefs, ideas, politics, and overall outlook have all been subject to change and development. I have read and examined articles and books which have had tremendous impact upon my development. In addition, I have been fortunate to have spent time with some great thinkers who have challenged me to continue to claw forward in examination of my idealogies. Ironically, I have also been encouraged to think and develop by those I have found to be incredibly close-minded and irrationally tied down to certain beliefs, stereotypes and ways of thinking.

Diane Ravitch starts her latest book off with a great statement on doubt, skepticism and rationality. I think it is a great reminder that no matter how much I learn there is always room for new ideas and potential changes to my beliefs. As a human, I am constantly limited by my own experiences, bias, and pre-determined worldview. My limitations constantly seduce me into small-minded thinking and irrationality. I will cling to beliefs and ideas simply because I cannot think outside of my own personal box. Thoughts, opinions, and beliefs formed in that box have a very minute chance of being successful or valuable to myself or my community. However, when pushed and prodded to move beyond - I can gain such valuable insight. The goal then, as Ravitch explained, is to continue to doubt, examine, and be skeptical while remaining open-minded. New facts, evidence and/or opinions should impact my thinking. I should be different tomorrow in other words. Is that a sign of a flip-flopping person? No. That is rationality at its best.

The goal now becomes to continue to think, learn, and grow. May the person I become tomorrow not be worried about being "right" so much as being a willing participant in the game of growth and knowledge.


If there is life on Earth but none yet observed on any of the other planets in our solar system, can we make a guess as to the probability that alien life is thriving somewhere out there in the cosmos? Who could possibly say? We only know that there is life on Earth. And when it comes to baseball and to hitting streaks, there is at least one thing that we can say for sure: Through the end of the 2010 season 17,290 players were known to have appeared in the major leagues. Only one of them had ever hit in 56 straight games.
Kostya Kennedy, 56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports, (New York: Time Home Entertainment Inc, 2011), 343.

I just finished reading Kostya Kennedy's new book on Joe DiMaggio and his 56 game hitting streak. It was a great & highly entertaining read on one of the more remarkable streaks/stats in baseball history. He did a wonderful job at detailing the streak, Joe DiMaggio and the culture of 1941. One of the book's strengths is simply moving along the story without ever getting bogged down into overwhelming details. On top of that, Kennedy does a great job at looking at side stories such as Pete Rose, the luck of a hitting streak and the odds of a hitting streak such as DiMaggio's even happening. Along the way I picked up some interesting facts and enjoyed learning more about the streak overall. I give a high recommendation to the book - especially for baseball fans.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Cut Defense?

"The single biggest threat to our national security is our debt."
-Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff-

In fact, the U.S. spends about as much on its military as the rAlign Centerest of the world combined.

While the U.S.'s military spending has jumped from $1,500 per capita in 1998 to $2,700 in 2008, its NATO allies have been spending $500 per person over the same span. As long as the U.S. is overspending on its defense, it lets its allies skimp on theirs and instead pour the savings into infrastructure, education and health care. So even as U.S. taxpayers fret about their health care costs, their tax dollars are paying for a military that is subsidizing the health care of their European allies.

Thompson, Mark. "How To Save A Trillion Dollars." Time 25 April 2011: 24-29. Print.

Friday, April 15, 2011

My Own Reality

I don't like work - no man does - but I like what is in the work - the chance to find yourself. Your own reality - for yourself, not for others - what no other man can ever know. They can only see the mere show, and never can tell what it really means. Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, Kindle Location 535-37.

What does it mean to find yourself? Is is possible to do something and in the act of doing that particular task or job find yourself? In the same vein, is it possible to get so lost within a task or job that you lose track of who you even are? Does a job provide an opportunity for others to see who you are or does a job simply allow you to test yourself to see what's within you? I struggled nearly every single day I worked at the church. I was so frustrated, lost, confused, hurt, and often angry at my job there. I was bitter to my wife. I struggled to invest in my own kids. I felt parts of my own life ebbing away as if the days, weeks, months and years were being consumed by a beast I had no idea how to contain or control. Often times I wondered why I kept toiling at something that no matter how hard I tried never seemed to fit. Questions I asked never seemed to be answered. Those above me would always point out that I had issues that needed to be sorted out but that the job itself was fine. Those I encountered assumed the job was great for me and that it fit so well for my skills, personality, and experiences. I was lost amongst it all, not knowing what to do, who to turn to, or what the hell was wrong with me. Looking back I can see clearly now that I was searching for something that couldn't be found there. A job, in a myriad of ways, can never truly give identity or purpose. However, within a job one can experience the journey towards finding out who they are and what their reality is. The job in and of itself is not that critical. However, the job can either assist in the process of discovery or simply be a stumbling block towards recovery of oneself. Working for the church was never meant to be for me. Others could see the "mere show" and assume they knew what was best - but only I could tell what was going on. I was even accused of using the church to further myself as if somehow I wasn't providing enough return for the labor I put forth. Man that pissed me off. But in the end, who cares. What matters is that I ended up finally stumbling in a new direction of teaching & education. I have yet to find a job and reality in this economy doesn't speak too kindly to my prospects. But in the short time I have worked at a school I have found a vocation that has opened the floodgates of thoughts, feelings, and ideas welled up within me. Reality is at the end of the tunnel, and for a change, my job allows me to see it. I am finding myself on a daily basis now. Are there difficult parts to my job? Certainly. But it has provided me the opportunity to explore and experience life. I am finding a new me, and I really love it. The mere show others might see probably gives them an opinion or two on who I am. But now I don't care anymore. No one can tell, explain, or experience the depth of refreshment I have found in teaching. Reality is finally here and now I am not afraid of it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Spectral Illumination

The yarns of seamen have a direct simplicity, the whole meaning of which lies within the shell of a cracked nut. But Marlow was not typical (if his propensity to spin yarns be excepted), and to him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of one of these misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination of moonshine. Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, Kindle Location 60-63.

The idea of a seamen & ability to tell yarns is humorous enough, but in the case of Marlow we see a complex story of complexity and depth that speaks much to the condition of the human soul as well as the period of European expansion in Africa. As Marlow recounts his tale, we see a story filled with descriptions that have meaning far beyond that which he simply states. The joy of reading Conrad's book is understanding the depth of what he is trying to communicate. The above quote really showcases the book as a whole. Meaning is more than that which is found when a nut is cracked open - rather that which is outside of the entire nut. In other words, the entire picture of situation, person or scenario must be understood, studied and appreciated in order for it to be grasped. It is far too easy to just to conclusions and assumptions based upon what we can see and immediately understand. Much like when we crack open a peanut shell expecting to find a peanut, we quickly formulate ideas about people or situations based upon what we find to logically fit. Those false assumptions end up tainting our viewpoints, restricting us from seeing real truth. How much do we miss out by failing to see that which is only lit by the "spectral illumination of the moonshine" as Conrad states through Marlow? The story always contains more depth then meets the eye. Our goal as people ought to be the examination and study of people, situations and scenarios that yield the greatest amount of understanding and appreciation. It is only then that we can truly hope to limit the damaging destruction of our own willful ignorance and bias.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


As the rubber terror spread throughout the rain forest, it branded people with memories that remained raw for the rest of their lives. A Catholic priest who recorded oral histories half a century later quotes a man, Tswambe, speaking of a particularly hated state official named Leon Fievez, who terrorized a district along the river three hundred miles north of Stanley Pool: All the blacks saw this man as the Devil of the Equator...From all the bodies killed in the field, you had to cut off the hands. He wanted to see the number of hands cut off by each soldier, who had to bring them in baskets...A village which refused to provide rubber would be completely swept clean. As a young man, I saw [Fievez's] soldier Molili, then guarding the village of Boyeka, take a big net, put ten arrested natives in it, attach big stones to the net, and make it tumble into the river...Rubber caused these torments; that's why we no longer want to hear its name spoken. Soldiers made young men kill or rape their own mothers and sisters. A Force Publique officer who passed through Fievez's post in 1894 quotes Fievez himself describing what he did when the surrounding villages failed to supply his troops with the fish and manioc he had demanded: "I made war against them. One example was enough: a hundred heads cut off, and there have been plenty of supplies at the station ever since. My goal is ultimately humanitarian. I killed a hundred people...but that allowed five hundred others to live."

Adam Hochschild, King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, (New York: Mariner Books, 1999), Kindle Location 2977-89.
Sick. Twisted. Morbid. Utter darkness. The absolute depraved condition of men is incredibly difficult to acknowledge and learn about. Just how far we as people are willing to go in our quest for wealth & power is beyond sickening.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Message, Audience & Self-interest

Morel knew exactly how to fit his message to his audience. He reminded British businessmen that Leopold's monopolistic system, copied by France, had shut them out of much Congo trade. To members of the clergy he talked of Christian responsibility and quoted the grim reports from missionaries. And for all Britons, and their representatives in Parliament, he evoked the widespread though unspoken belief that England had a particular responsibility to make decency prevail in the universe. Adam Hochschild, King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, (New York: Mariner Books, 1999), Kindle Location 3745-48.

Does your message fit your audience? That is perhaps the most critical aspect of marketing. If your message does not fit the audience - you will have no one to receive it. One of the "heroes" in the fight against the Congo Free State was E.D. Morel. His crusade against the atrocities being committed there made a significant impact. His ability to reach completely different groups with the same idea was instrumental in the fight to end the crimes being committed under Leopold's regime. He understood the basic concept that people will only care about something and be moved to make a difference if they understand how an issue personally impacts them. In a nutshell, people are inherently self-interested and that self-interest needs to be engaged in order for people to act. Fitting your audience then becomes an issue of whether or not you are connecting with the self-interest within the particular group(s) of people you are trying to reach. British businessmen in 1900 were not necessarily interested in helping native Africans getting slaughtered by brutal Europeans. However, they were interested in getting a piece of the economic pie that up to that point they had been getting cut out of. Morel got them on board by hitting that nerve. So whatever it is you are trying to "sell" to people - you must tap into that nerve center that motivates based upon selfish desire. This seems to be especially true in light of philanthropy endeavors. People will give of their resources (time, money, energy, etc) if they see a personal benefit. As their selfish interests are met - they will continue to move in any sort of direction one would choose to lead them in. Selfishness is the key to philanthropy? At first it seems paradoxical to say and yet the more I look at it the more I see it to be true. People are greedy & selfish by nature. Even when we feel like we are doing something for the greater good - we often are doing so under some form of personal motivation (the need to be known, recognized, loved, appreciated...). Every move we make, we do so in light of how others might respond. Its sick, ugly and twisted. Marketing has capitalized upon it & successful leaders have used it for years. A message will only reach humanity IF it taps into it. So the question becomes - can we use this tool of our own depravity for any consistent good? In other words, can our selfishness consistently be put to good use & how?