On historical accuracy in movies

Here is an interesting answer in the forum Quora about how accurately (or not) Hollywood movies about WW2 tend to be. (Disclosure: I have close relatives who work behind the scenes decorating movie sets; they take great pains to make the various objects as accurate as possible and also within the budget)

Thomas Sutherland

Answered Apr 30

“Movies Are not documentaries.

That means they are never accurate about anything they depict, not because they deliberate;ly want to lie, but because the very nature of any narrative art, be it a novel or a movie or a theatrical play, is to trigger an emotional response from the audience and maximize it.

“Thus there is conflict, tension, suspense, characters’ growth, and behind all that a story argument that moves the events forward towards a certain end. A movie doesn’t follow the rules of life, but the rules of fiction. It should have a beginning, a middle and an end, it should have an interesting pace and escalating conflict that starts with an inciting incidents, escalates to crisis and ends with a resolution for that crisis. All its characters must be interesting to watch. All its dialogue must be interesting to hear. Life is simply never like this.

“Therefore the good in a movie is summarized good (and maybe even exaggerated and glorified, made heroic), and the evil is summarized evil(concentrated and distilled). The whole thing is designed to trigger strong emotional responses, for that is the core of “entertainment”, not the bona fide presentation of events as they happened. Life, even in its most exciting or most horrible turns, is too boring to be depicted as it is. The historical accuracy is often restricted to the visuals, so that the spell of “suspension of disbelief” is not broken and the entertainment is not spoiled.

“So, if you want accurate knowledge, consult a book. If you want accurate “historical” knowledge, consult several books and documentaries, written by different people with different opinions, and from the points at which they intersect, you might discern a truth. If you want entertainment, you can watch a movie.”

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Published in: on September 24, 2017 at 9:09 am  Comments (1)  

China Has a Major Education Problem for its Poor and Rural Population

Here in the US, most people think of Chinese students as being uniformly hard-working and awesomely brilliant, especially in science, technology, engineering and math. However, that is because the ones who make it here are the very best students China has to offer. As an article in Science points out,

“…only one-quarter of China’s children grow up in the relatively prosperous cities. Rural moms have high hopes for their children; Rozelle’s surveys have found that 75% say they want their newborns to go to college, and 17% hope their child gets a Ph.D. The statistics belie those hopes: Just 24% of China’s working population completes high school.”

Published in: on September 22, 2017 at 12:02 pm  Comments (1)  

A radical look at the Vietnam War

I am of the generation that resisted the unjust American war in Vietnam, and am quite proud of the little that we did. I agree with the author quoted below that the Vietnam War, which killed two or three MILLION Asians in  order to prop up the Western world-wide colonial empire, was a crime, rather than a mistake. The heroism of the Vietnamese (and others) in fighting imperialism for over 30 years should never be forgotten.

I felt sorry for my friends, classmates and neighbors who got drafted to fight over there against their wishes – some of those who finished their two-year stint in Vietnam or elsewhere during that era were eager to join and help lead our anti-war chapter of Students for a Democratic Society at my college (Dartmouth).

If the military had in fact been able to draft me, I am not sure whether I would have fled to Canada, or else gone in and simply have been a most unwilling, uncooperative soldier (like so many others), or else been involved in a big protest of some sort, or else have either ended up in the stockade for my pains (along with many others). Maybe all of the above?

Here is part of an essay by Bruce Dixon in today’s Black Agenda Report‘:

Convinced that Uncle Ho — as the Vietnamese called him — and his party would win the 1956 elections, the US created a brutal puppet government in the southern half of Vietnam to cancel the election and “request” US military aid against so-called invaders from so-called North Vietnam. In the final decade of the long Vietnamese war more than half a million US troops were deployed, more bombs were dropped than in all of World War 2, and millions of civilians mostly Vietnamese perished. It’s the final decade of the 30 year bloodbath that most now think of as the American war in Vietnam, Vietnam the mistake, Vietnam the tragic misunderstanding.

Only it wasn’t a mistake, and certainly not a misunderstanding. The Vietnamese and other colonial subjects had been insisting on their independence for decades. Ho Chi Minh showed up at Versailles back in 1919 when the terms of the treaty ending World War 1 were being drafted. Ho demanded independence for the African and Asian colonies of France, Britain and other European powers. The Vietnamese knew from the very beginning what they wanted to do with their lives and resources in their country. The so-called misunderstanding was that the US political and military establishment, and 5 US presidents over 30 years imagined they could torture, bomb, invade and slaughter their way to some other outcome.

Ultimately they could not. 58 thousand Americans and 3 million Asians perished. 3 million dead is not a mere mistake. It’s a gigantic crime, after the world wars, one of the 20th century’s greatest. Crimes ought at least to be acknowledged and owned up to, if not punished. Pretty sure Ken Burns is not at all about that. At best Burns seems to be about a species of healing and reconciliation that limits itself to Americans agreeing with and forgiving their trespasses against each other, and dutiful acknowledgements of the valor of fighters on both sides.

The series has not yet concluded, so we’ll have to wait and see whether Ken Burns ignores or buys into the discredited lie propagated by our country’s war propaganda industry that unaccounted for Americans prisoners were somehow left behind and missing at the end of the Vietnam war. They were not. But the little black flag and ceremonies for the imagined “missing” in Vietnam are standard now four decades after the war’s end.

I didn’t go to Vietnam. Vietnam came to me, or tried to. I was lucky enough to live in a big city, Chicago, and to connect with the antiwar movement, which included black soldiers and marines returning from Vietnam. Some of them frankly confessed to taking part in all sorts of atrocities and war crimes and we took them from high school to high school in the fall and early winter of 1967 to repeat those confessions, and to tell other young black people like us it was an unjust war we had a duty to resist.

I thought I was risking prison when I sold Black Panther newspapers at the armed forces induction center on Van Buren Street and refusing to be drafted like Muhammad Ali. But by then so many young people were resisting the war that Uncle Sam’s draftee army became useless. In that era there were not enough cells to lock us all up, and many white Americans were declaring themselves ready for revolution, or something like it. US policymakers learned that part of their lesson well. They ended the draft and most white antiwar protesters went home.

Noam Chomsky has it exactly right when he declares that Vietnam was not a mistake or tragic error. It was an example that said to the world – THIS is what you get when you defy the wishes of the US ruling elite. You get bombs, you get rivers of blood and you get your country’s economic potential set back half a century. Seen that way, Vietnam wasn’t some tragedy the US blundered into by mistake. It was an example. And a crime.

Charter Schools in Michigan Harm Students and Help Investors — and DeVos Deserves Much of the Credit

A long article in the NYTimes analyzes how the rise of almost completely unregulated charter schools in that state has not meant any benefits to the poor students attending their privatized schools. In fact, the authorizing agencies for these mostly for-profit charter schools actually seem to be doing it mostly because they get a cut of 3% of the entire budget for the schools that they supposedly supervise!

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In addition, the charter management companies make huge profits by buying under-utilized land and buildings for a school and then selling that property to the school for many times what they themselves pay!

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If that’s confusing, rest assured that that is on purpose.

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Not that this has helped the children of Michigan. By the very yardsticks that corporate edu-“reformers” like to use, since Michigan has undergone this wholesale charterization of its formerly public school system, their test scores have dropped from near the middle of all 50 states to very close to the bottom.

And our current federal education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has been leading the way, advocating more school choice.

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A quote:

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“…banks and hedge funds, Miron told me, profit greatly from the charter sector, thanks to large tax breaks dating back to the Clinton presidency that benefit investors in schools located in struggling “renewal communities.” And with so many eager lenders and bond underwriters lined up, E.M.O.s realized they, in turn, could make money from one of the largest expenses charter schools face. “A bunch of them thought, Wow, I can start a real estate division!” VanderWerp said. “We’ve run into this all over the place”: E.M.O.s buy buildings “for a couple hundred thousand bucks, lease them to the school for a couple of years and then sell them” to the school “for a few million.” In Michigan, 80 percent of charters are currently operated by for-profit E.M.O.s. The state’s largest E.M.O., the Grand Rapids-based National Heritage Academies, operates 84 charters in nine states and has been criticized for charging wildly above-market annual rents to its schools: A Detroit Free Press investigation found that 14 National Heritage schools in Michigan pay the company $1 million or more.”

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Very sad, depressing, wholesale theft. When will we stop it?

Published in: on September 10, 2017 at 10:24 am  Comments (5)  

John Merrow’s Takedown of the Gates-Jobs Takedown of America’s Public Schools

I don’t know if you watched it (I didn’t), but apparently there was a major TV extravaganza last night about how America’s high schools are obsolete and need to be re-invented. John Merrow did watch it, and was rather disgusted. Here is a bit of his commentary:

Last night’s program was high energy and cute without being daring.  For example, it had a clever ‘red carpet’ segment but with teachers as the stars.  Lots of cheering, but that was it.  That’s sadly timid.  Imagine if Melissa Rivers, the host on the red carpet, had asked teachers the question she always asks the Hollywood stars: “You look marvelous. What are you wearing tonight?’  

And picture a male teacher responding:  “These old things?  I bought these khakis 12 or 13 years ago. I was going to buy a new pair for tonight, but I just spent $380 on basic supplies for my classroom.  Oh, and would it be rude of me to ask how much your outfit cost?”

Imagine a female teacher responding, “What am I wearing?  Actually, I’d rather talk about tomorrow’s field trip….I’m taking my kids to the Getty Museum, where they will….. see provocative art and meet contemporary artists.  And the next day my students will be on Skype, talking with students in a high school in Paris about climate change. We’ve been measuring the air quality here and sharing the data with them for purposes of comparison and analysis.  But I have to charge the kids for the bus to the Museum and I had to ask some wealthy parents to pay for the scientific equipment because the school district has been cutting our instructional budget.”

And another teacher could have said, “To be honest, I’m happy for this attention, but I can’t help but thinking about the fact that you make 17 or 18 times more money per year than I do.”

A More Sophisticated Analysis of the Nonsense that is “Value-Added Modeling”

Bruce Baker, aka SchoolFinance101, here takes on many of the problems involved with VAM, which supposedly being measures how well teachers are doing their jobs.

Among other things, he analyzed the scores of New York City public schoolteachers, which were published by the NYTimes and NYPost. He appears to find more year-to-year correlations between the scores of teachers working at the same school and the same grade and subject matter than I did (found it to be close to zero), but he still finds the whole VAM thing absurd.

In addition, he points out that the difference between a "good" teacher and a "bad" teacher on the VAM is for their students to get two more multiple-choice questions right (or wrong).

Published in: on July 22, 2017 at 9:52 am  Leave a Comment  

What is “Personalized Education”, really?

It’s really DEpersonalized education. I’ve even tried helping to write some  about 18 years ago, and it didn’t work then, either. Nor did teaching machines of the 1950s or 1960s. And the latest versions being purchased and mandated by school systems are pretty ineffective — but they do gather lots of data on kids. And they earn their publishers a ton of money.

Steven Singer analyzes it and writes much better than I do. 

Here is his take.

Published in: on July 14, 2017 at 4:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

John Merrow on Rhee’s Lies about cheating, which are being echoed in Washington Monthly 

John Merrow on the massive cheating cover-up by Rhee, Henderson & Co in DCPS regarding test scores. Here is the link.  Please share.And here is the entire article, which I find excellent.

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In his article, Toch distorts or omits at least eight issues. The distinguished education analyst Mary Levy and I have written a rebuttal, which is scheduled to appear in the next issue of The Washington Monthly. In this blog post, I want to consider in detail just one of Toch’s distortions: widespread cheating by adults: He glibly dismisses DC’s cheating scandals in just two sentences: In March 2011, USA Today ran a front-page story headlined “When Standardized Test Scores Soared in D.C., Were the Gains Real?,” an examination of suspected Rhee-era cheating. The problem turned out to be concentrated in a few schools, and investigations found no evidence of widespread cheating.
There are two factual errors in his second sentence. Cheating–erasing wrong answers and replacing them with correct ones–occurred in more than half of DCPS schools, and every ‘investigation’ was either controlled by Rhee and later Henderson or conducted by inept investigators–and sometimes both. All five investigations were whitewashes, because no one in power wanted to unmask the wrongdoing that had produced the remarkable test score gains.
Four essential background points: The rookie Chancellor met one-on-one with all her principals and, in those meetings, made them guarantee test score increases. We filmed a number of these sessions, and saw firsthand how Rhee relentlessly negotiated the numbers up, while also making it clear that failing to ‘make the numbers’ would have consequences.
Point number two: The test in question, the DC-CAS, had no consequences for students, none whatsoever. Therefore, many kids were inclined to blow it off, which in turn forced teachers and principals to go to weird extremes to try to get students to take the test seriously. One principal told his students that he would get a tattoo of their choice if they did well on the DC-CAS (They could choose the design; he would choose the location!).
Point number three: For reasons of bureaucratic efficiency, the DC-CAS exams were delivered to schools at least a week before the exam date and put in the hands of the principals whose jobs depended on raising scores on a test the kids didn’t care about. This was a temptation that some school leaders and some teachers found irresistible. Test books were opened, sample questions were distributed, and, after the exams, answers were changed. Some schools had ‘erasure parties,’ we were reliably told.
Point number four: Predictably, test scores went up, and the victory parties began.
Contrary to Toch’s assertions, the ‘wrong-to-right’ erasures in half of DCPS schools were never thoroughly investigated beyond the initial analysis done by the agency that corrected the exams in the first place, CTB/McGraw-Hill. Deep erasure analysis would have revealed any patterns of erasures, but it was never ordered by Chancellor Rhee, Deputy Chancellor Henderson, or the Mayor, presuming he was aware of the issue.
When the erasures continued in Ms. Rhee’s second year on the job, she came under pressure to investigate, and so in December 2009 she hired Caveon, a security firm that is based in Utah. Why Caveon? Ms. Henderson explained to a City Council subcommittee, “The reason that we hired Caveon was because we thought that we needed an objective third party to actually do the investigation and to make recommendations to us.”
Caveon was the perfect choice–if one wanted to turn a blind eye to any wrongdoing. Prior to its work for DCPS, Caveon had been hired by the (so-called) “Blue Ribbon Committee” established to look into allegations of cheating in Atlanta. Caveon looked–and reported finding nothing wrong in what turned out to be the epicenter of cheating by adults on standardized tests. Dr. John Fremer, the head of Caveon, told me that while he ‘knew’ there was widespread cheating going on, that was not mentioned in his final report. “We did not try to find out who was cheating,” he said. “Our purpose was to rank order the schools beginning with those with the most obvious problems (of unbelievably dramatic score increases), in order to make the task of investigating more manageable.” In other words, Caveon produced a list!
Dr. Fremer admitted that he knew some Atlanta teachers were lying to him, but he said his hands were tied because he didn’t have subpoena power.
Georgia’s investigators were contemptuous of Caveon’s efforts, labelling it a ‘so-called investigation.’ Richard Hyde, one of the three leaders of the investigation, told me that “either by coincidence or design, it was certain to fail.” Mr. Hyde denied that Caveon needed subpoena power because its investigators were representing a governmental agency, and under Georgia law it is a felony to lie to someone representing the government. What’s more, Mr. Hyde said, Caveon had a fundamental conflict of interest–it was investigating its employer, at least indirectly, because the “Blue Ribbon Commission” (which Mr. Hyde dismisses as “The Whitewash Commission”) included a deputy superintendent of schools.
Robert Wilson, another leader of the Georgia investigation, was even blunter. Of course Caveon didn’t find cheating because “Caveon couldn’t find its own ass with either hand,” he scoffed. Why anyone would hire Caveon was, he said, beyond him–unless they didn’t want to find out anything.
Dr. Fremer seemed hurt and offended by the criticism. “We try to be non-emotional,” he said, acknowledging that “People who listen only to the law enforcement side do not respect us.”
And so DCPS hired Caveon, which found nothing wrong in DC. And, almost predictably, that first Caveon investigation became the linchpin for all that followed, from DC City Council Chairman David Catania’s giving it a “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” to Rhee’s and Henderson’s claims that the investigations vindicate them.
But let’s dig deeper into the surreal world that Caveon inhabits. Caveon President Fremer maintains that his firm did not conduct an investigation in the normal sense of the word because his firm does not conduct investigations. “We use the word ‘investigation’ in our materials because everyone else does,” he said, “but we do analysis, with the goal of process improvement and quality assurance.” Then he added, “We were not brought in to help DCPS with an analysis of what had happened.”
The contract was for a two-part project: a security audit and questioning of certain people at just eight DCPS schools (even though many more schools had been implicated). But, he emphasized again in our conversation, it was not an investigation because Caveon was hired to “review and collect information.” He told me, “I give advice as to where to focus attention. I am not trying to position a client to put people in jail. Instead, we give them enough information about problems to allow them to fix them in the future.”
The security audit, he said, consisted of examining DCPS’ policies and procedures around the testing. Caveon did not seek to find out if principals and teachers actually followed the rules, and so Caveon apparently did not inform Chancellor Rhee just how easy it would be to cheat on the DC-CAS before, during and after its administration. Caveon did make some recommendations to improve security–recommendations, he said, that DCPS did not follow.
Part Two of Caveon’s work–the questioning–is even more interesting. Dr. Fremer told me that DCPS gave him a list of the eight schools it was authorized to go into. DCPS also gave Caveon about 50 questions to ask of teachers, proctors, principals and assistant principals. He said DCPS indicated that Caveon was not to stray from the list. Follow-up questions, the essence of a good investigation, were actively discouraged, according to Dr. Fremer.
He told me that DCPS’ list of questions did not include “Did you see anyone erasing answers?” or “Did you participate…” or “Are you aware of organized erasures?” or “Are you aware of cheating?”
Dr. Fremer told me that his employees never use words like ‘cheating’ or ‘illegal behavior’ because they are ‘too emotional.’ Instead, he said, they asked individuals if they could explain huge discrepancies in wrong-to-right erasures between classrooms.
Caveon was contractually obligated to show DCPS drafts of the report before it was made final, which Dr. Fremer said was completely appropriate. “There was no pressure to ‘sweeten the sound’ of our report,” Dr. Fremer said. “We wanted DCPS to check for mistakes and make certain that we did not reveal the identities of individuals.”
Caveon sent DCPS its final report in February 2010, saying that it had not found evidence of cheating–which it had not been looking for, as Dr. Fremer explained.
Caveon I and II were Chancellor Rhee’s first foray into ‘investigation,’ and she and Henderson regularly cite the Caveon reports as evidence that all was well–because Caveon did not find cheating–which it was not looking for.
Next in this row of dominos is DC’s Inspector General Charles Willoughby, who leaned heavily upon Caveon’s report as he exonerated DCPS. If Caveon’s work was superficial, Inspector General Willoughby’s investigation was downright inept. Just how weak was Mr. Willoughby’s effort? As we reported on Frontline, the Inspector General’s investigation is remarkable for what it did not investigate. He chose not to investigate 2008, the year with the most erasures. He chose not to investigate Aiton, a school notable for its high rate of wrong to right erasures. He did not examine the test answer sheets or perform an electronic analysis. And he did not investigate J.O Wilson – a school with excessive WTR erasures in 100 percent of its classrooms – simply because Chancellor Henderson had assured him that it was a good school.
Although more than half of DC’s schools had been implicated, he focused only on Noyes Education Campus, the school that USA Today had made the centerpiece of its investigation. Over the course of 17 months, his team interviewed just 60 administrators, teachers, parents and teachers, all from Noyes Education Campus. By contrast, Atlanta investigators interviewed over 2,000 people and reviewed 800,000 documents. Rather than seek outside experts as Atlanta investigators had, he relied heavily on information from Caveon, which had been, of course, in the employ of DCPS. He did not ask to perform erasure analysis but relied on interviews–sometimes conducted over the phone. And he produced a 17-page report, in sharp contrast to Atlanta’s (post-Caveon) 813-page report.
Without the power to put people under oath, he told City Councilman Kenyan McDuffie in February that he just asked them if they had cheated. If they said they hadn’t, that was the end of it, because, he explained, he “wasn’t conducting a fishing expedition.” Test monitors sent by the central office to patrol Noyes for the 2010 test told Mr. Willoughby that they had been barred from entering classrooms. School officials denied that charge–and Mr. Willoughby believed them, not the monitors.
At a DC City Council subcommittee hearing, Mr. McDuffie asked Mr. Willoughby why he had examined just one school, Noyes, and had not scrutinized other high-erasure schools. “Because we didn’t find evidence of a conspiracy to cheat at Noyes,” he replied, and because that was what was recommended to him. Was it prudent to take the word of firms that were paid by DCPS instead of seeking an outside, independent opinion and to rely on media reports, Mr. McDuffie asked. “Yes,” Mr. Willoughby replied.
Asked if he had tried to find an explanation for the pronounced test score drops when security was tightened, Mr. Willoughby replied, “We were told that it was caused by an influx of new students.” Mr. Willoughby found no evidence of widespread cheating at Noyes but cited some security concerns and noted that one teacher had been dismissed for coaching students on a test. The IG’s essential message: except for that one teacher, all was well.
Finally, there was the U.S. Department of Education’s Inspector General’s investigation, which leaned heavily upon Mr. Willoughby’s work when it reported in January, 2013, that “No information was obtained or developed during the course of the investigation that substantiated the allegation of false claims made to the federal government or confirmed widespread cheating on standardized tests.”
Rhee and Henderson defend their approach. The investigations “found that there was some cheating, but that it was isolated to only a few schools,” Rhee said in February, 2013. Henderson is proud of how she conducted the inquiries. “We have had six investigations that have cleared DCPS of widespread cheating,” she said in April, 2013. “I am frustrated because people are saying I haven’t done enough,” she told ABC News. “I have used every tool in my tool kit to get to the bottom of cheating.”
The exact opposite is true. Rhee’s and Henderson’s insistence on higher test scores created a climate that encouraged people to game the system. The adults who changed answers, coached students during testing, and shared exams before the tests were not thinking about their students, just themselves, their jobs, and the appearance of success. Kids were numbers, nothing more, nothing less. That is what Toch, once an aggressive reporter, should have told his readers, because Rhee and Henderson were stealing children’s opportunities to get a decent education.
The fantasy that top-down, data-driven, test-centric ‘reform’ works is perpetuated by articles like Tom Toch’s. Sadly, his piece has been widely distributed by the editorial pages of the Washington Post, influential blogger and co-founder of Democrats for Education Reform Whitney Tilson, and others.
Please share this, and our Washington Monthly rebuttal when it appears, with everyone you know who believes that public education ought to focus on children and youth, not test scores and adult aggrandizement.
 

Published in: on July 14, 2017 at 1:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

Upcoming Important Meetings on DC Public and Charter Schools for July 2017

Valerie Jablow’s list of upcoming meetings will be just about your only chance to have any public input on a wide range of topics regarding publicly-funded schools in Washington, DC.

So pay attention, boys and girls and moms and pops! Here is the link:

The Rush Of July: Education Events Galore

Published in: on July 12, 2017 at 5:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Polluters and Billionaire Firms Secretly Meeting With Cheeto Administration Officials to Undo Regulations that Protect Us and Might Cost Them Money

forget what Lincoln wrote. What Cheeto is doing, in secret, is to enact the agenda of the Koch and Walton families, so that government by the lobbyists, for the billionaires, over the rest of us, will be brought forth on this continent as it is in Russia and many other places, in secret, and without any public scrutiny.

Because the Koch brothers know damn well that if people actually understood their agenda, most of us would actively oppose it.

This article in the NYT will unfortunately be ignored, even though it details many of the steps that profiteering polluters and exploiters are taking, without any public input, to undo environmental or labor regulations that have been enacted. It’s long, but worth reading and passing along.

Published in: on July 12, 2017 at 4:46 am  Comments (1)  
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