James Tanton on the Math Common Core Standards

James Tanton is an experienced math teacher and educator of other teachers whom I respect a lot. Part of his take on math is that it should relate to the real world and it should be a joyful activity, because math is all around us if we care to look; if we do, it makes our lives better.  (My paraphrase of his general ideas, not a literal quote at all; but the way I expressed it, expresses my own personal thoughts on the topic. If you want to see examples of his work, I suggest you look at his site, . Again, I think he does excellent work, and I wish I could be one-fifth as original in my own teaching as he is.

In this video, Tanton gives his take on why the Common Core State Standards in math are actually a very good thing, not a bad thing at all, IF they are implemented correctly.

That “if” is a big one. Let us assume Tanton is right, that the CCSS in math (don’t know about any other subject) was written in a very thoughtful way and will promote these eight general concepts and practices in students towards math:

math practice standards


I’ll retype those for clarity:


  • Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  • Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  • Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
  • Model with mathematics
  • Use appropriate tools strategically.
  • Attend to precision.
  • Look for and make use of structure.
  • Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning

Those are, in fact, excellent ideals.

And those ‘Mathematical Practice’ goals you see above are, in fact, expressed better there than I recall having seen before in all my years of teaching math.

But — remember that “IF” clause? “If they are implemented correctly?”

As far as I can see, judging by what I see in mathematics classrooms in both charter and public schools in DC, it looks to me as if the worksheets and practice tests were written either by low-paid, low-skilled temps who have almost no experience in teaching math, or else were written by very clever and evil people who want to seriously dumb down the education of urban youth.

And, what’s more, those inequities are being primarily visited upon our poorest kids, especially [but not limited to] those of color.

Let me give examples, judging again by my own personal visits to schools in DC and what math teachers in DC tell me and what students of my acquaintance know tell me and show me (some of whom I have known for years).

What I see is that in the expensive private schools in DC, where there is no test-accountability on the part of the USDoEd, they are continuing to give a pretty good education, sometimes joyful and interesting, sometimes not, mostly depending on the individual math department members and the incoming ability levels and work ethics of the students they teach. Some of the departments use some pretty old textbooks because they prefer them to anything in print at this moment.

At the magnet high schools in DC, there is some pressure from the NCLB and RTTT testing mania, but since nearly all the students are already at or above grade level by any reasonable measurement, they can continue to teach.

However, at the regular, comprehensive high schools and at the middle and elementary school levels, I see that the curriculum is rigidly prescribed and regimented from above, in such a way that NONE of those eight laudable goals can possibly get implemented.


(1) Unbelievable number of typos and sloppy and incorrect problems (some of which I’ve been documenting on this blog) on centrally-produced tests and worksheets;

(2) Problems that are self-contradictory and involve huge amounts of difficult and confusing text;

(3) Large numbers of multiple-choice test items, which, in my considered professional opinion, can do almost nothing to promote any of those wonderful thought processes; nor do they give useful information to eachers about what the student does or does not understand;

(4) Requiring schools to spend an enormous fraction of their time on testing and test prep, thus preventing them from doing any open-ended investigations into math;

(5) Reliance on electronic on-line worksheets that are at times just as buggy as the worksheets;

(6) Loading teachers with so much time-consumiing but useless busy-work regarding data collection and entry and analysis that they have no time to actually read what the students wrote and drew — and believe it or not, it’s just as important in math as it is in any other class!

(7) Deep understanding is prevented because instead of going at a breakneck speed through umpteen standards a mile wide and an inch deep, it’s now 1.6 kilometers wide but only a couple of millimeters deep! (Get the joke?)

(8) And from what I see over time (30 years in DCPS and 5.5 years retired now), while I thought math instruction in some ways had improved from 1978 to the mid-2000s, it seems to have taken a real turn for the worse since Michelle Rhee and the then-head of the Washington Teachers’ Union, George Parker, along with AFT head Randy Weingarten and the heads of several large foundations (Walton family, an ENRON family, the Broads and one more), along with then-mayor Adrian Fenty and the blessing of Congress and the White House, were able to impose a weird settlement upon teachers which required them to teach to the many, many tests I’ve been complaining about for some time, in exchange for mythical bonuses amd high salaries that almost no teacher will be able to earn because they will be fired or burn out first.

My conclusions:

In mathematical logic, the word “if” is a really big deal.

And it looks to me as if the authorities in DC (both public and charter, with some exceptions as noted above) are NOT implementing the Common Core Standards correctly at all, because everything I see tells me that everything being done in the charter schools and in the public schools that serve poor or working-class kids in DC is in fact thwarting those laudable goals.

Remember what Tanton said, which I granted to him as being valid: If they implement the Math CCS standards correctly, then the results will be excellent.

Logicians say that when you have a sentence of the form  “If A. then B”, then it’s only false in the case where the “A” section is true and the “B” section is false. There are three other cases and they all have overall values of “true”. In particular, if the “A” part is false, it doesn’t matter whether B is true or not: the entire “if A then B” statement is true.

I maintain that the “A” part is false. So in one sense, whether the CCSStandards in math are as clearly- and as well-written as many math teachers think, it remains the case that even by their own standards, the idiots running the USDoE and the other billionaire education ‘reformers’ who think they know all the answers, are implementing it in a way as to subvert every single one of the laudable goals that are promoted by the CCSS themselves.

And that’s quite a trick.

It’s kind of like some of the absurdities in 1984 or recent world history: many regimes upholding the universal brotherhood of all working people while imprisoning, torturing, murdering or enslaving millions of said working people. I know it’s not nearly as bad, but this current situation sure is perverse.

So, what do you think? Believe it or not, there is a ‘comments’ button below this text, but it’s really tiny and you have to search for it.

Again, the link to Tanton’s video.


Is it inequity, or poverty, that causes the educational problems we see in the US?

Someone posted this question to me. I think it’s inequity, since poverty is a relative thing. Our ancestors who hunted and gathered 10,000 years ago in the cold or hot and dangerous oceans, rivers, jungles, steppes and meadows of the day, armed only with animal bones, sharpened sticks, rocks and nets they made themselves, mostly didn’t think of themselves as poor. Here in the US we can all see on TV video footage of the most opulent mansions and life-styles the world has ever seen, bar none (not even the Roman or Chinese empires!). If your family only earns a few thousand dollars per year, you are going to live in utter squalor, even though such an income 200 years ago would have seemed amazing.

I’m going to coin a slogan: “It’s the differences, stupid.”

If you see that some kids go to schools where they get to learn horseback riding, soccer, lacrosse, and clay sculpture after school, AND learn foreign languages and have actual physics or biology labs with up-to-date equipment with teachers who are trusted to choose what to learn and experiment with, and your school just gives you multiple-choice worksheets all day in math and reading, with none of that other extracurricular stuff and no classes outside of math, reading, basic science, and ‘social studies’ becomes more worksheets, you will feel like crap.  Especially since the never-ending revolving door of teachers who start with high hopes but then are beaten into submission to Test Prep Above All and following idiotic curricula written by folks who never taught is going to condemn you to bad teaching.

Education should be one of a whole raft of methods used by all parts of our government that is used to end poverty. However, our judicial and police systems seem to be bent on promoting poverty for some while promoting rule over the entire universe for others. I could give many examples, such as judges routinely suspending drivers licenses for not paying small fines the person can’t pay. Then they get more tickets for driving on a suspended license, and eventually in jail or many thousands in debt. While the rich are allowed to buy elections, hire lawyers to evade state, local and federal taxes and don’t go to jail for almost any fraud committed. On the rare instances that a billionaire fraudster does go to jail, then it’s at a nice place and when they get out, they then get to set up lucrative ‘foundations’ that prey on the poor. (Think Michael Milken)

One excellent proposal from Ras Baraka, the new Newark mayor, during his campaign is that school house other agencies that help fight the effects of poverty: have free, good dental and optical and medical clinics in evrery single school, as well as free cafeterias on weekends.


So kids won’t have to miss school if they have toothaches, can’t see, or need a shot or a medical test or a wound bandaged, or psychiatric help for those suffering from acute mental illness attacks – a substantial fraction of the kids in any high-poverty school anywhere in the USA.

Plus, many families and kids actually don’t have food to eat on weekends, snow days, and holidays. Also, if well done, it would let kids know that someone was looking out for them. I thought it sounded like a great idea. I hope he’s managed to put it into effect. Unfortunately, the elected officials of Newark have for over 10 years not been permitted to run their own schools. Instead, Kami Anderson, an administrator appointed by Governor Chris Christie, runs things. She refuses to go to any hearings or meetings in Newark, IIRC.


Fourier Analysis – Done By A Machine With Gears and Levers

Fourier analysis allows your cell phone or MP3 player to transmit your voice and play music without needing huge reel-to-reel tape recorders to store all the sounds and without using enormous amounts of bandwidth. It’s now done electronically, by clever mathematical algorithms that are encoded on the tiny microchips inside your computer or cellphone or iPod or whatever.

The general idea is you take a complex wave-front and you turn it into an infinite series of sine or cosine waves. Believe it or not, it actually makes the data much simpler!

A very simple example. This weird shape


is merely the sum of two cosine waves:


And all of the music you hear (eg a clarinet, which might look like this on an oscilloscope)


can be deconstructed into a whole lot of sines or cosines


About 40 years ago, I did some Fourier transforms by hand in a calculus class. It was time-consuming, but very, very cool.

A full century ago, Albert Michelson had to do a whole bunch of Fourier transforms for some astronomy task. It was too time-consuming to do by hand, so he built a machine with gears, levers and so on to do it for him.

It’s a super-cool analog (as opposed to digital) computer — and there is a fellow who shows you exactly how it works!

His presentation is in four parts. Start with this one, the introduction.

Published in: on November 18, 2014 at 5:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Marion Brady on How to Fix American Eduction

This is insanely brilliant. Brady explains quite clearly  how people like Bill Gates have really perverted everything about education in America by turning the entire motivation schemata upside down — and he also explains how to fix it in a very humane manner. Here is an excerpt:

Read the whole thing. and don’t let the title convince you it’s just a rant, because it’s not.

A part of this essay that I would like to highlight is how Brady thinks we educators (and other citizens) should be approaching the entire question of school:

There’s a now-familiar ancient Chinese proverb which, loosely translated, says, “Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I’ll remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.”

When I made that radical switch, I began a search that continues, a search for experience-creating activities

   (a) so interesting, the teacher can leave the room and nobody notices,

   (b) so useful, the activity’s relevance is self-evident,

   (c) so complex, the smartest kid in the class is intellectually challenged,

    (d) so real-world, perceptions of who’s smartest constantly shift,

   (e) so theoretically sound, the systemically integrated nature of all knowledge is obvious,

    (f) so wide-ranging, the activities cover the core curriculum (and much more),

   (g) so varied, every critical thinking skill is exercised,

   (h) so scalable, concepts developed on a micro level adequately model macro phenomena

  , (j) so effective, when the activities themselves are forgotten, their benefits are fixed permanently in memory.

The raw material for creating a near-infinite number of activities that meet those nine criteria isn’t hard to find. It lies within the property boundaries of every school or randomly chosen slice of real life. Finding it is mostly a matter of looking at the too-familiar and the taken-for-granted until it becomes “strange enough” to see.

Entire URL: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/08/01/what-do-standardized-tests-actually-test/

which means this was published in the column of Valerie Strauss, at the Washington Post, who continues to be a great resource for all the rest of teachers and parents (not corporate executives). The only greater publicist for our cause that I know of is Diane Ravitch. I am glad that Valerie continues to be gainfully employed at WaPo even as her editorial writers consistently had a set of policies that were either at cross-purposes or diametrically opposed. I don’t know how she does it.


Unfortunately, Answer Sheet very seldom actually reaches the printed edition. It’s almost strictly online.

Then again, maybe that matters less, given publishing trends.

While obviously nothing is perfect I think that all of us members of the public who are concerned about schools* owe Valerie, whom’s I’ve never met in person, and the Washington Post itself, a debt for VS being able to continue being such a resource for so long!



What is and isn’t happening in DC public schools

An article by my colleague David Tansey and another person on what is or isn’t the result of the so-called reforms and test score rises in DC public schools since the ‘reformers’ took over:


Published in: on March 13, 2014 at 1:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

An Astronomer Looks at the Zodiac

Or, has your “sun sign” changed after 2000 years?

And did you know that the Zodiac has at least 15 constellations?

This is a little presentation I did last week on the Zodiac for something called the “Encyclopedia Show“. Out of eight ‘acts’ in this cabaret show on “The ZODIACalypse!!!”at a place called The Dunes in Columbia Heights in DC, there were two musical selections, a few poems, a stand-up comic, an interview with a professional astrologer, and some rants and skits.

Most of the presenters (but not all) seemed to be quite skeptical about the many claims made by proponents of, shall I say, ‘traditional’ astrology. At some point the organizers will post a video of the night’s affair, as they have for other ones. Past shows seem pretty good and I may come back to watch more of them, in the future.

My role was as straight man, I guess, narrating a little powerpoint presentation using slides I gathered from many places, including a bunch of beautiful images from NASA’s wonderful  Astronomy Picture of the Day and other places. I actually got a lot of laughs and applause, and a bunch of folks came up and told me they really enjoyed my part. Some of my fellow-astronomer friends came and didn’t regret it either.  It was actually a lot of fun.

Here is the link to the PPT itself on Google Drive. Feel free to use or modify it as you like, and enjoy. And here is a link to a YouTube video of my talk.

NOTE: I see that I got the terms “equatorial plane” and “ecliptic” confused in my talk. “Ecliptic” is the apparent path of the sun through the heavens, i.e. along the Zodiac. The equatorial plane of the Earth is just that, a projection of the Earth’s equator into space. (These two planes are different, as I correctly noted; they form an angle of about 23.4 degrees to each other.) My bad.


Here is a slide so you can cut to the chase: what is your sign, really?

traditional and modern zodiacJust for fun, I did a search of the sun-signs of the 44 US presidents. You would think they would all be rather similar, right? Nope. Look for yourself:

presidents and sun signsHowever, that had to be cut from my presentation because it was already too long.

I also wanted to show a short video by magician James Randi where he debunks astrology 100%, but it, too, had to be cut. Here is the link:

Published in: on January 21, 2014 at 6:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Fact-free Praises for “Rhee-form” in DC from a Dick

Richard Whitmire is at it again, claiming huge success for the eduDEformers without the slightest evidence.

I’ll explain.

I think I have showed pretty clearly in my last several posts that the current trends (that is, slow but fairly steady progress as measured by the NAEP) in DCPS have been going on for the past decade or so: There has been no perceptible change in trends post-Rhee as opposed to pre-Rhee that we can see in any of the officially-produced data from the NCES on the NAEP and the TUDA. (Write something like NAEP TUDA DC in the little ‘search’ box on this page, perhaps to the right, and you’ll see a lot of my recent posts that have graphs and so on; you can see for yourself. )

From 2002 through the taking of the 2007 NAEP, DCPS used to have superintendents, an elected school board, and a veteran teaching staff, mostly black, that often had deep roots in the local community. DCPS also had a union that had to be listened to and reckoned with, because it actually was something that the members had themselves helped to build. (As in many other areas, we certainly had our share of crooks. It’s my contention that the crooks have had a very bad effect, by allowing themselves to be an example of black, inner-city corruption at all levels, so, as Richard Whitmire has argued, the African-American teachers and principals were precisely the ones who were holding their black DC students back. (I’m not making up this accusation – read The Bee Eater)). DCPS certainly had its share of very serious problems, about which I and many other teachers and parents spoke up and tried to fix in one way or another, not always successfully…

But for the last five years, Washington now has a completely powerless school board, a mayor who appoints chancellors based on wishful thinking, and a loss of about 80% of the former teaching staff (retired, resigned, or fired) and their replacement by overwhelmingly young, white recent college grads who find it a VERY difficult job and seldom last more than 2-3 years in the classroom, because the work load has become so overwhelming and crisis-like, with no support from any administration member at any level…

And over the last 5 years of Rhee-form, in a time when enrollment in K-12 was booming again in DC after many decades of free-fall, regular DC public schools have managed steadily to lose market share to charter schools, to such a degree that today, it’s nearly 50% charter, 50% regular public. And teaching staff are judged by a pseudo-scientific formula couched in impenetrably complex and ENORMOUS AMOUNTS of mathematical processing that literally no one can do by hand: a prominent mathematician calls this “Intimidation by Mathematics” is used to judge teachers’ and administrators’ worth. The pressure on teachers is unrelenting.

Nowadays, all of the principals and all of the downtown staff is new, too. Many of the higher-ups seem to be connected through Teach for America and various other foundations funded by a relative handful of billionaires (some very public, such as Bill Gates or Michael Bloomberg or the Koch brothers or the Walton family) but they often jump from city to city, too, seeking higher pay and better perks wherever they go…

The curriculum has now become preparation for standardized tests; art, music, gym, recess, projects, libraries, and anything else not tested is disappearing from the curriculum.

On the charter-school side, it’s fairly easy for someone to open up a few charter schools and pay him/herself high salaries, set up a separate for-profit corporation that the “public” charter school does all its business with, and it’s often perfectly legal. But it’s very common for charter school operators to earn half-a-million dollars a year, or more. (Options PCS, anybody? Many charter heads report that they earn large six figures, and I wonder what they don’t report…)

So, to repeat, there has been an almost complete changeover of teaching and administrative staff in the District of Columbia’s public education sector.  And the ‘system’ appears to have totally changed, to the point that every administrator and every teachers knows full well that he/she has absolutely no right to any due process: they can be fired or forced to resign at almost any time, even in the middle of the school year, while they waste untold amounts of time that could be used actively engaging kids in real thought-provoking activities, they are expected to follow scripted lessons to the letter, and spend almost the entire year preparing a test that many of the students don’t care about all and means nothing at all to their future.

And what has changed regarding these all-important test scores? Nothing..

The trends before Rhee in the NAEP tests are almost exactly the same as after Rhee, on all levels that NAEP reports on, for DCPS.

All those changes – for NOTHING?

(I have not yet teased out the charter schools data for DC, so I won’t say anything about how they compare with the regular public schools.)

In any case, this same Dick Whitmire has, as usual, been given yet another opportunity in the Washington Post to pour his accolades on his  personal friends, Michelle Rhee, Kaya Henderson, and the rest of the new millionaire class of edupreneurs who made good via TFA, and their billionaire backers.

Here’s a quote from that Dick:

“The education momentum has shifted so dramatically in the past few years that most Washingtonians have no idea why D.C. students suddenly are being singled out for making remarkable progress.”

Remember the book “Godel, Escher Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid?” and Douglas Hofstadter and Artificial Intelligence? What they are doing now:

GEBcoverThis book was a sensation back in 1980.

It was an absolutely, amazingly brilliant work from a totally unknown first-time professor/author.

So much so that Scientific American’s Martin Gardner praised it to the skies, rightly so, pushing it to the best-seller book lists, and not because was yet another detective novel or a political rant or a ghostwritten memoir by someone rich and famous.

No, it was an well-written, highly entertaining book about the connections among mathematics, computer languages,  English and other ancient and modern human languages, DNA code, artificial intelligence, science, history, music,  what it means to be human and to think and do stuff. Brilliant, original ideas and clear, sparkling language on every beautifully-written page — with lots of illustrations and diagrams, too!!

The fact that the author’s father (Robert) shared the Nobel Prize in nuclear Physics in 1961 considerably upped the odds that Hofstadter would grow up in intellectual atmosphere that valued independent thinking rather than mindless obedience. According to this Atlantic review, his parents more than tolerated young Douglas’ tendency to go off on various tangents and delve into them deeply and thoroughly and even obsessively for some period of time, until he felt he had another hunch or tangent, which he would again jump into with both feet and all his weight. And all of it carefully and brilliantly documented.

Those documents, I discovered in reading this essay, became the book GEB.

He and the rest of the Artificial Intelligence community agree that they have gone in different directions since then.

AI today no longer tries to imitate the actions of the human brain, but they are doing some pretty amazing stuff with sheer computational speed and power.

Hofstadter thinks that may all be very nice, but that approach does not really help understand how humans think — how we make all those connections in our head in which we strip off 99% of the details about one thing and find one or two ways in which it relates to another thing, constantly and unexpectedly

[I gave some copies to some of my students; I wish I could have afforded to give away more. Instead, I developed lists of books on math and science and math field trips and tessellations and had kids read some of the books and do various projects that I though would illustrate some topic and develop pride and character and a belief that math of whatever sort I was teaching to them was actually worth something and useful in real life as well as pretty cool as an abstract creation of humanity…]

Douglas Hofsadter, the author of GEB is not working for Google or Apple or any other such company helping to develop complex computer  programs that do complex things either very well at least some of the time — because DH thinks they won’t lead to more understanding of human or animal intelligence. According to this review, DH has the greatest job in the world — he doesn’t have to teach classes. or  attend any meetings at all, or perform experiments. or write grant applications. For a number of years,. he took over the Mathematical Games that Martin Gardner used to write for SciAm, and renamed it “Metamagical Themas” – an anagram of the original name.

A few interesting quotes from the article: (The man who would teach machines to think…)

“Correct speech isn’t very interesting; it’s like a well-executed magic trick—effective because it obscures how it works. What Hofstadter is looking for is “a tip of the rabbit’s ear … a hint of a trap door.”

N ow, some quotes from Hofstadter himself, which I got from a collection of his quotes, and which remind me why I thopught his work was so brilliant in the first place:

Meaning lies as much

in the mind of the reader

as in the Haiku.

 “How gullible are you? Is your gullibility located in some “gullibility center” in your brain? Could a neurosurgeon reach in and perform some delicate operation to lower your gullibility, otherwise leaving you alone? If you believe this, you are pretty gullible, and should perhaps consider such an operation.”

 “Hofstadter’s Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law”

“Sometimes it seems as though each new step towards AI, rather than producing something which everyone agrees is real intelligence, merely reveals what real intelligence is not. ”

“In the end, we self-perceiving, self-inventing, locked-in mirages are little miracles of self-reference.”

“I would like to understand things better, but I don’t want to understand them perfectly.”

“This idea that there is generality in the specific is of far-reaching importance.” 

Something different in the way of summer vacation requirements for students

Remember those summer reading lists that teachers are often required to assign, and which students sometimes complete (often grudgingly)?

Seems to me and many others that kids these days don’t have nearly enough time for unstructured activities outside. ie, playing. Insyead they spend too much time playing manipulating little or big electronic devices like the one you are reading this on.

This is unprecedented in the history of our species, and if it continues at the current pace, future generations will be utterly lost when the power goes out.

Here is a different set of requirements or suggestions or goals we could set for our young’uns over summer break.

1. Sail a small boat / paddle a kayak or canoe / row a boat
2. Catch some fish
3. Swim in a lake/river/pond/pool/ocean
4. Build sand castles and trenches
5. Destroy those sand castles and trenches
6. Learn which plants and critters are dangerous, which are good to eat or otherwise useful
7. Watch the dance of the planets across the Milky Way
8. Go on hikes with friends (no adults!) in the woods or desert or tundra or farmland or in a new city
9. Get lost and find your way out
10. make a fire outside and cook your own meals
11. Tell original, silly or scary stories
12. Play unorganized pickup sports with no adults in charge
13. Sleep outside
14. Help take care of a garden, a farm, and/or domesticated livestock
15. Learn how to swim underwater for longer and longer distances
16. Paint, draw, sculpt, do pottery
17. Learn how to shoot an arrow or .22 rifle
18. Hunt small game if possible (might have to wait until fall)
19. Read whatever you like
20. Go to museums
21. Visit relatives and friends
22. Write letters, emails, diaries, tweets, etc but not too much
23. Ask an older relative or family friend to show you some interesting skill or trick or to tell you some stories about how things were like 50, 60, 70 years ago…

What items would you like to add?

Published in: on August 8, 2013 at 12:32 pm  Comments (17)  

Some photos and commentary from yesterday’s Save Our Schools rally on the ellipse in DC

I attended the Save Our Schools rally on 12-30-2011  here in Washington, DC, for about 2 or 3 hours, but didn’t stay until the march itself.¤ Here are a few of the photos I took with my phone.

This first one was taken roughly between noon and 1 pm, from somewhere in the middle of the crowd, looking towards the stage where speakers were speaking and performing. You can see there was even a large video screen where we could see the speaker, enlarged and voice-amplified.

(I’ve never experienced a large screen at any protest rally that I agreed with before. It was a good feature. Perhaps my not seeing the good guys use one merely dates me, or perhaps my own small donation was used wisely, and we can actually think about beating the billionaires and the right-wing politicians at their own game. Our side doesn’t generally have billions of dollars to spend on campaigns…)

Jonathan Kozol was one of the speakers, I found out right AFTER his speech. I was talking to some other DC teachers that I hadn’t seen for a long time, and not really listening to the speaker. (We’ve all done that, right?)

I had no idea who was the smallish, older white guy on stage, speaking with a sort of New York accent. I noticed out of the corner of my eye and hearing that he definitely spoke with force and conviction. Right after he stopped speaking, and during a large round of applause, I asked the other teachers who he was. They told me, “Jonathan Kozol.” I felt kind of embarrassed, because I’ve read a fair amount of stuff written by him over the past 40 years, but had never heard him speak or even saw a photo of him. By not listening, I had just blown an opportunity to hear what he had to say on a totally current topic. I’m still glad I talked to the other teachers, though.

It would be great if Kozol or someone like him could get a regular broadcast gig≈ so that there would be at least somebody to counteract the Ann Coulterses and other right-wing Fox commentators that seem to dominate the news. I know there are some folks on the media who are opposed, but they are (in my mind) either a bit too frivolous at times (eg John Stewart of The Daily Show or Steven Colbert) or need coaching on “presence”, speaking, and use of humor (eg Ellen Goodman of Democracy Now). IMHO.

Here is a sign about that:

Perhaps a video of the entire speaking list will be posted on-line. I hope so; some of the speeches and performances were quite decent.

Demonstrators had been urged to make signs; there were lots of them, and I saw some very large interesting banners being put together, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying, since I only saw smallish pieces of them. If anybody knows of any photos of the banners as they were actually used during the march, I’d like to know where to find and view them.

One of the many signs, this one about the general importance of education:

Another crowd shot, below.

No, that’s not a balloon; it’s me, finding an extremely original way of inserting myself into the scene. Actually, the word ‘original’ should probably be preceded by the prefix “un”. Am I failing to eschew sufficient obfuscation here? (kidding)♠

Journalism majors and would-be or experienced news photographers: Is this next photo what they would call an example of photo-blogging with an obvious political slant?  (again, just a joke)

Just in case you can’t quite make out the next sign, I think it says, “THE CHARTER SCHOOL MOVEMENT IS A CORPORATE TAKEOVER!” and “Tax the Rich”. I can’t figure out the drawing and can’t remember what it was supposed to be.

I really liked the sign with the infamous Microsoft Windows Office Paper Clip.

If you don’t get the connection: Bill Gates, owner of Microsoft and probably the single wealthiest person in the entire planet, has been using his billions to change educational policy in this country in ways that most educators see as seriously wrong and dangerous. Even he now admits that much of his money has been a total waste.

Our only internal disagreement among SOS folks on that fact is that some of us think that Gates and the other handful of educational billionaires are sincere but misguided, while others of us think that these corporate profiteers are apparently ruining education in this country precisely for their own selfish (or class, that is, the ruling class) interests: Class warfare of the richest against almost everybody else. Which is what many of us see in the current, all-out attack on public schools and their teachers, and labor in general. We see the current trends of grading schools by a stupid multiple-choice test is condemning the vast majority of inner-city and poor rural and minority students to an inferior, narrowed-down education that emphasizes conformity and docility above all else while stripping out recess, the arts, music, social studies, hands-on science, and anything else that isn’t currently measurable with those profit-making tests. Meanwhile Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, and Obama’s own kids all go or went to fancy, expensive private schools with lots of extracurricular activities and which emphasize authentic experiences and creative thinking, and whose curriculum is not driven at all by any of those punitive NCLB/RTTT tests.

I also made some signs as well, but I forgot to take photos of them. I think one of them read something like what you see above, in black letters on an orange background.

One of my two other signs simply quoted the section of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution that deals with the current debt crisis. The applicable words of the Amendment read as shown in purple, with my own conclusion in green at the end. Again, I don’t exactly remember what I wrote, but the sentiment was about what you see below.

14th Amendment:

“The validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned.”

Tax the Rich to Pay the Debt to Preserve Public Education!

I eventually gave my signs all away, but before I left I collected literature, buttons, and a T-shirt from vendors and people giving some of them away. 


¤It was really hot, among other things, and I was planning on going out all night, that night, to do some astronomy in the hills to our west, and needed to pack and nap.♥

≈I have no idea how much I would agree with what he might say today. I haven’t kept up much with his writings, and we all change. But it is better to have some sort of public opposition to right-wing lunacy than none at all.

♠Translation into plain Americanese: “This is a joke, where I am attempting to poke some fun at myself for putting my finger in front of the lens. The humor is in that I used words that are actually correct, but not likely to be understood unless you have a pretty big and academic English vocabulary. Since you are obviously reading this on something like a computer, if it amuses you to do so, you can look up what they mean, if you don’t already know. Having that sort of vocabulary helps you get a cup of coffee, if you also happen to have about four dollars. [that’s another joke!] Some research seems to indicate that knowing big words also helps with job or school interviews, but is not always helpful on the job.”

♥Unexpected clouds rolled in, so I got back home to DC and to sleep before 3AM.


I mis-remembered and wrote “Alfie Kohn” instead of “Jonathan Kozol” yesterday. It was almost definitely JK, not AK. — GFB

Published in: on July 31, 2011 at 1:33 pm  Comments (3)  
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