How do Putin’s Russia and Trump’s USA Compare?

A screenwriter whom I knew back in junior high school here in DC, and who, like me, was an anti-war activist back during Vietnam, and with whom I sometimes agree and sometimes disagree, wrote:

Retweeted Doug Henwood (@DougHenwood):

Anyone left of center who took the Russia paranoia seriously, look where it’s taking us. This is extremely bad news.

I replied as follows (edited by me for clarity and accuracy):


I cannot find any actual facts in that tweet. (And yes, I followed the link)

On the other hand, here are a few things that I think are objectively true, and a few that are my own opinion:*

the Russian government is… (1) oligarchical,

(2) a kleptocracy on every level,

(3) steals from its own people and rapes its environment for the benefit of a small group of billionaires,

(4) murders, muzzles, or imprisons people who dissent,

(5) supports friendly dictators abroad,

(6) builds and sells military weapons all over the world, and

(7) meddles in the internal affairs of foreign countries.

By contrast, the American government has recently been adjudged by experts (not me) as

(1) an oligarchy that systematically works for the benefit of a small wealthy class of businessmen to thwart the wishes of the majority,

(2) assassinates lots of people (mostly overseas; the murders of black men by police seems to be a local, not an explicitly national, policy),

(3) while the billionaires have been quite successful in breaking labor unions in the US and reducing wages for working people, we have had over time all sorts of vigorous [and sometimes somewhat successful] movements [which are now under hard attack from the current party in power] to preserve the rights of workers, consumers, and the environment,

(4) the US does in fact allow critics [for example, I’ve been to any number of anti-government demonstrations over the past 50 years and have only been arrested a couple of times for it, never beaten up by police; however, there have been plenty of times when the power of the State lined up firmly on the side of corporations to help break labor unions],

(5) supports friendly dictators abroad [of course proclaiming them to be lovers of freedom,

(6) builds and sells more weapons than anybody, and

(7) meddles in foreign elections and so forth [I recently saw a very long list of countries where the US had interfered with internal affairs or overthrew the government since WW1].

There are a couple of differences, though:

In many countries, you can’t get ANYTHING done at any level of government (from the head of state down to dog-catcher) without bribing somebody. That is not (yet) true in the US. However, it looks to me like Trump and his family are working hard to bring the US up to the level where our corruption is even higher than in Russia, China, India, the Philippines, or Nigeria. And 45 has certainly called for beating up protesters like myself, and praised corrupt, murderous foreign dictators like Putin and Duterte. However, there is still a lot more freedom of the press and assembly here than in the four countries I named!

Vive la resistance!


* which statements are fact, which are opinion? I type – you decide.


The Math Teacher’s Job is Neither to Teach the Lesson, Nor to Help Individual Students Who are Struggling!

….but rather, to prepare a lesson from which ALL the students can learn!

… according to the way that Japanese math teachers are taught their craft, as described below. You will find that these methods, which include Lesson Study, are pretty much the exact opposite of American “Direct Instruction” or “Teaching Like A Champion.”  Given that nobody claims that Japanese students lag behind American ones in math or science, perhaps we in the US could profit from examining how other nations’ teachers do it. Note also that this description is of mathematics lessons in elementary school, not middle or high school.

Please read the following description and leave comments on what you think.

From Tom McDougal. Lesson Study Alliance, Chicago [and brought to my attention by Jerry Becker. – GFB]
It’s not the teacher’s job to teach the students!

By Tom McDougal

What?? You might be thinking. What else could the teacher’s job be but to teach?

The teacher’s job is to ensure that students learn, all of them, we hope, though we know we will usually fall short.

In Japan, most (elementary) math lessons are designed as  “teaching through problem solving” lessons (TtP). A teaching through problem solving lesson typically includes the following parts:

1.  introduce the problem
2.  explicitly pose the task for students
3.  students work on the task (5-10 minutes)
4.  share student ideas
5.  compare and discuss the ideas for the purpose of learning new mathematics
6.  summarize major points from the lesson
7.  student reflections

(There is sometimes overlap, and a back-and-forth between some of these, e.g. #4 & #5 may be combined.)

While students are working on the task (#3), the teacher walks around the room, monitoring their progress. Japanese educators have a term for this, kikkan shido, or  “providing] guidance between the desks.” They recognize that there are different ways to do kikkan shido, and it is often a subject of discussion in Lesson Study. During planning, for example, a team will usually discuss how – or whether  – the teacher should respond to a student who exhibits a particular misconception; during the post-lesson discussion, there may be argument about whether the kikkan shido was effective. And, it is considered a skill that new teachers need to develop.

Teachers who are inexperienced with TtP lessons often make an unfortunate error while doing kikkan shido: they see a student who is struggling, or who has done something wrong, and they stop and help that student. After several minutes the teacher moves on, encounters another student who is having trouble, helps that student, and so on. Then, suddenly, time is up, and the lesson ends.

There are at least four important drawbacks to this type of kikkan shido. First, as my description suggests, it uses up a lot of time. The teacher may never get around to all of the students, and other students who need help may never get it. Second, by addressing misconceptions privately rather than publicly, the teacher deprives other students of the opportunity to analyze those misconceptions and learn why they are incorrect. Any experienced teacher knows that certain misconceptions are very common, so when one student makes an error that stems from a common misconception, that offers an opportunity to “inoculate” other students against making the same error sometime later.

The third problem with tutoring students individually is that it conflicts with the whole premise of teaching through problem solving. You expect that some, or even all, of the students will have difficulty with the task; that’s why it’s called “problem solving” and not “practice.” Teaching through problem solving involves an expectation that students will have difficulty, but that the comparison and discussion phase will address their difficulties and that, by the end of the lesson, all (or almost all) of the students will have learned what they need to know.

And fourth, we want to help students learn to give viable arguments and to critique the reasoning of others, the third Standard for Mathematical Practice in the Common Core State Standards. To accomplish this, we need for students to share and discuss different, perhaps conflicting solutions. Students need to do the critiquing, not the teacher.

Of course, some errors are simply the result of sloppiness, or otherwise unrelated to the main learning goals of the lesson. So when the teacher sees an error while conducting kikkan shido, he or she has to decide: should this be addressed privately or publicly? What should I say to this student? Do I expect that, by the end of the lesson, this student will understand what he or she has done wrong? This is a tricky decision, and an important part of lesson planning is anticipating different student responses, correct and incorrect, and deciding ahead of time how to handle them.

Caring teachers naturally feel drawn to help struggling students: they feel like it is their duty to help those students right now. To counteract that impulse, I say, bluntly:

It is not the teacher’s job to teach the students. It’s the teacher’s job to create a lesson that teaches the students.


Trump Administration Opposes Actual Science, Because That Would Cost Money to the 0.001% and Instead Help Ordinary People and the Planet

I predict that history will judge that this Administration is by far the worst that the American people ever elected. Yes, worse than Bush2, Harding, or Buchanan.

Unless future history is written by flunkies hired by Jerry Fallwell or the Koch brothers.

God forbid! (If there is one; if God actually exists, all the evidence shows that he/it/it/she/they is/are incompetent, when you think of all the mass murderers, swindlers, and dictators who have lived to a ripe old age surrounded in luxury, while millions if not billions of people suffer in unimaginable squalor in slums, favelas, tent cities, or refugee camps, while we simultaneously wipe out all the big land- and sea-dwelling mammals and pollute the air, land, and oceans for posterity with poisons, plastics, and poop.)

One piece of evidence comes from this rather long article in the New York Times which points out how much they have been either attacking science directly or simply ignoring it: science advisory positions that have existed since World War Two aren’t filled, science advisory panels to government agencies are ignored or eliminated, scientific data is ignored or denied, and instead, polluters who used to be regulated and fined by agencies are instead put in charge of them.

Here is the link.

And, yes, this is new. There are many things for which you can find fault with previous American administrations, including Obama (who was worse on education even than GWBush, and we know that all American governments lie constantly [eg Gulf of Tonkin Incident, The Sinking of the Maine, Iraq’s nonexistent Weapons of Mass Destruction, etc, etc), but actively fighting science was never one of them.

#45 is even going to try to ‘negotiate’ next week with North Korea without having actual advisors on nuclear weapons. What could possibly go wrong with that?

It’s really scary.

Why is it that we keep on testing?

The only actual impact it’s had has been to distort education in a top-down manner, and that’s not exactly a good thing, as Peter Greene points out at Curmudgucation.

A few excerpts, concerning the reasons we were given for all this testing, and how that excuse turned out:

Address Inequity

We would find where non-wealthy non-white student populations were being ill-served. Anyone who can’t figure that out without the BS Test is a dope. And as with the last point, the problem has been that the data hasn’t so much been used to find schools that need help as it has been used to find schools that are vulnerable and ready to be turned into somebody’s business opportunity. Instead of focusing our will to address educational inequity, test-based accountability has highlighted our lack of will (and wasted the good intentions of some folks).

Informing Instruction

Teachers were going to get their data spreadsheets and figure out, with laser-like precision, who they needed to change their instruction. But right off the bat it became clear that data about students in your class would only arrive long after the students had departed for their next classroom. Then the security issue reared its stupid head– I can see student scores, but I am forbidden to see the test itself. (For that matter, students who are so inclined are unable to see their specific results to ask “What exactly did I get wrong here?”) This means I can tell that Pat only got an okayish score, based on some questions that might have asked about something about reading that Pat apparently answered incorrectly. How can that inform my instruction? It can’t. It doesn’t. The BS Tests “inform instruction” mostly by encouraging teachers to spend more time on test prep. That’s not a good thing.

Letting Parents Know How Their Children Are Doing

Under this theory, parents have no idea how their children are doing in school until the BS Test results appear. Assuming for the moment that the parents are that disconnected, the information provided is minimal, scoring a few categories on a 1-3 or 1-4 scale. A BS Test provides very non-granular data, less nuanced than a report card– and based on just one test. There is nothing for parents to learn here.”


The Example of West Virginia Teachers Should Inspire Us All

The recent state-wide strike by the school teachers of West Virginia, and their victory on the behalf of ALL West Virginia state workers, should inspire teachers and other workers all over the country, as Jan Resseger writes so eloquently here.

I read one article elsewhere, written by a right-wing journalist of some sort, criticizing teachers as whining, overpaid crybabies. That person did not, however, criticize any of the billionaires or millionaires for extracting maximum profits for the shoddy profits or apps they sell, nor the unlivably low wages they pay to retail, service, or manufacturing workers all over the country. How on earth can you pay rent and utilities and transportation and health care and everything else even for a single person, working full time at the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour or even double that? You can’t, is the short answer.

While a handful of billionaires own more than half the population combined, it is beyond time for the rest of us to organize and demand a better life. This can only be done in large numbers, with workers (and consumers) sticking together. All by yourself, you can’t do much. However, if you can persuade others to stick together, on a massive scale, and not to allow ourselves to be divided by race, gender, national origin, religion, or anything else, then the sky’s the limit! Divided we fall, united we stand!


DC’s Education ‘Reformers’ Have No More Morals or Ethics Than Trump and his Mafia Cronies

I’m not going to list all the ways that the Trump organization caters to foreign dictators, launders money for corrupt kleptocrats, lies about how they are ‘for the American worker’ while giving enormous tax breaks to American billionaires, and so on.

But let’s list some of the ways that DC’s education ‘Reformers’ (starting with Michelle Rhee) have lied and defrauded the citizens, students, teachers and other staff in Washington, DC.

Latest: Brand-new Chancellor Antwan Wilson pulls strings with the Deputy Mayor of Education for DC (Jenny Niles) so that he can transfer his kid from Duke Ellington School of the Arts to Woodrow Wilson SHS. Niles is caught red-handed and is forced to resign. (One difference: Donald Trump never resigns, never admits fault under any circumstances, no matter how obviously guilty he is)

[edit: Of course, this is not the first time that DC has seen such string-pulling to bypass the supposedly fair lottery system: there were similar scandals just last year. I guess the difference was that this time, someone resigned (or was forced to), and it was the Chancellor who was the personal beneficiary of the change. Last year, nobody resigned, and it was the Chancellor who was pulling those strings for other high-ranking DC officials.]

Before that: All of the DC education brass, including previous Chancellor Kaya Henderson and Michelle Rhee, as well as current mayor Bowser keep patting themselves on the back for supposedly having the fastest-improving school system in the nation, with dramatic reductions in suspensions and increases in graduation rates.

Later the facts came out: many of the students who misbehaved were put out of school and told not to return until their parents came in for a conferencer, but were not officially listed as suspended. So, the numbers of official suspensions went down, but the actual suspensions didn’t.

(From my own position as a retired teacher, I do think that there are times that a student must, in fact, be removed from a classroom until he/she calms down, makes restitution, has a conference with administrators and parents, or some such event. Schools that basically forbid a teacher ever to send a child out of the classroom for misbehavior are schools where chaos will reign. And I have seen such schools, both charters and regular public schools, here in DC. I have heard from teachers at schools that were pressured to reduce suspensions (e.g. one or more of the KIPP schools) that you then have kids roaming the halls.)

Also: news recently came out that enormous numbers of graduating seniors in DCPS had so many unexcused absences that they could not have passed even a single one of their courses. Massive fraud was imposed on the schools because teachers were forced to give nearly every single student a passing grade, even though on any given day, perhaps only 20% of the students enrolled in any given course were actually present. The truancy rate is mind-boggling, and actually has been getting worse since Rhee took power.

Let’s also recall that Michelle Rhee’s resume was full of lies, most a complete fabrication, from her completely fabricated 90-13-90-90 statistics from Baltimore in the mid-1990s, to her nonexistent glowing writeups in the Wall Street Journal.  She also illegally fired hundreds of DC teachers and lied about the reasons. She lied when she claimed that the teachers’ union prevented her from giving grants to teachers for supervised after-school study sessions. She essentialy forced all of her principals to promise to reach nearly-impossible-to-reach goals on test scores, without providing them with extra resources like counsellors, social workers, bilingual teachers, or anything else. Principals took the strong hint and held ‘eraser parties’ where they erased wrong answers on answer sheets, and bubbled in the correct answers with #2 pencils. Quite a few ended up winning large bonuses. Former Noyes principal Wayne Ryan, who was apparently the most prolific organizer of this sort of cheating, got promoted to deputy chancellor for instruction.

[Edit: after USA printed a series of hard-hitting articles outlining the fraud, an outside commercial firm (A&M) with no expertise in cheating on tests was brought in and whitewashed whatever they could. Controls were tightened up to prevent cheating, and guess what: the schools where evidence showed that staff had erased and fixed the largest number of answers — saw the largest drops back to test levels more in line with what they were obtaining before the cheat-fest.]

Of course, when the news came out of how he had won those awards, instead of being publically repudiated and terminated, Ryan was quietly allowed to resign. And so did Rhee.

Of course, Rhee wasn’t so quiet. She claimed she was going to raise billions of dollars from millions of citizens and set up a “reform” organization to fight against teacher unions and so on. Her organization raised a few million from a few billionaires, but quietly went out of business.

[edit: Also recall that Rhee and Henderson signed an agreement committing themselves to truly astonishing numerical growth goals in education in DC. The other partners to this set of promises were foundations set up by a handful of billionaires such as the Broad Walton, and Arnold foundations (I see that my link to the original document has died, and I am not sure to find it any more). Inspired by information compiled by my former colleague Erich Martel, I wrote a long series of articles examining how well R&H did. They didn’t score a zero, as you might expect. I found that their score was 2.8%. Yes, they failed to reach 97.2% of their goals. But they didn’t quit in shame over that; nor did the press even mention it. ] 


Vision of a Dystopian Education Future, Coming to Kids Near You

Not sure who wrote this, but if this is where education is going, it’s not a future I want anybody to grow up in. Not my kids, not my grand-kids, nobody.

Computerized education can really suck.

{Update: “Wrench in the Gears” is Alison McDowell; the section I referenced is the third of a series}

Automated Education: Building Sanctuary Part 5

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.

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.”

Were George Washington and Robert E Lee Equivalent?

Here is an exchange on something called Quora. The question below was (IMHO) quite stupid, but the answer was excellent. I’m quoting the whole thing becuase I don’t know how to just put in a link.


Ross Cohen
Ross Cohen, B.A. in History & Political Science
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