from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Monday, February 28, 2005

A thoughtful email about Teaching 

ON one of the lists in which I participate, there has been a recent discussion about certification, whether one should be certified specifically in History or more generally in Social Studies. There has been a lot of back and forth.

Then I received the following posting from a long-time teacher. I have received his permission to post his message. Read and enjoy.

Dear colleagues,

After almost four decades of teaching, serving on teachers' hiring committees and after parenting four of my own children I hope to have acquired some perspective on what makes a teacher's career either superior or "flawed". Good teachers are almost always well trained in methodology as a result of some sort of "Social Studies Education" training which includes both opportunities for observation and a well supervised student teaching experience. Several years of classroom experience in a collegial atmosphere
polishes one's methods. But merely learning how to stay several chapters ahead of the students while keeping them interested does not truly educate our charges.

ALL truly inspiring teachers are scholars and lifetime learners. This applies to the early elementary grades through the university. If teachers do not exude both love of the students and of the subject area they cannot become truly superior. The argument over a BAs and MAs in Social Studies Education versus basic degrees in history distract us from the central truth that great teachers can start from either base but must gradually become competent in both methodology and subject area. Necessarily, much of this
must be acquired outside of standard degree programs: funded summer programs, NEH fellowships and even Fulbright Scholarships go begging every year.

To inspire students to love learning we must be shining examples of lifetime learning. To be great teachers we must master educational psychology, theories of education and varied types of teaching. We must also understand our students and that requires a mastery of adolescent psychology and varied ethnic studies. To avoid being flawed we must be professional and well
rounded. Because no college can simultaneously make us historians and master teachers, we must become lifetime learners. Furthermore, most historians suffer from inadequate backgrounds in the other social sciences and narrow concentrations make them incomplete historians.

It is not a simple "either...or" situation; its "both" or, more accurately, "all".

Bob Nuxoll, consultant
Oceanside HS, Long Island, NY

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More on how we treat veterans 

since is the topic de jour for the Progressive Blogger's' Union today (hence my inclusion of PBU9 to allow for linking this to all the other posts on the topic).

There is an AP story about the high rate of homelessness among veterans -- there are something over 500,000 and that represents nearly 1/3 of all homeless men, if I read the story right (even thought veterans only represent about 13% of adult male population).

This is an example of what I wrote about in my earlier post about our mistreatment and betrayal of our veterans.

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Torture -- Must Read(s) 

there is an important diary on torture, by perhaps the best writer in the blogosphere, Meteor Blades, that has been promoted to the front page at dailykos. It is about torture, and was written last night, even before Bob Herbert's wonderful column in today's NY Times, "It's Called Torture"

was available.

Here is the link for "Torture isn't the Crime; Publicizing It Is", the title for which is derived from a remark by Jonah Goldberg

Of especial interest is one comment, which I have pasted below in its entirety. I think those of faith will find it pertinent.

Ken B
* Or John (4.00 / 3)

pas gar ho phaula prassÿn misei to phÿs, kai ouk erchetai pros to phÿs, hina mï elengchthïi ta erga autou.

Everyone doing evil hates the light, and does not go toward the light, that their deeds may not be judged.

(John 3:20, my translation from the Greek)

And just four short verses away from the fundagelicals' favorite Gospel tag, too. Funny how they never seem to read that far down the page, isn't it?


Jedoch der schrecklichste der Schrecken
Das ist der Mensch in seinem Wahn" -- J. W. von Goethe

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What happens to veterans when they come home? 

After WW I we did not do a very good job in transition American servicemen back to Civilian life. The financial aid that was promised was for far in the future. Once the Great Depression hit, the Bonus Marchers converged on Washington to pressure Congress to advance the payment of those bonuses. Not only did they fail to convince the Congress, they were subject to one of the more embarrassing moments in the history of our nation's Capital when Douglas MacArthur used regular army troops to disperse them and destroy their encampment.

We did a far better job after WWI and Korea. By then we had the GI Bill in effect. And the nation was committed enough certainly to the first of those conflicts, and to a lesser degree to the latter, that returning veterans encountered little hostility. Although it certainly was not all peaches and cream -- one of the best protrayals of what some veterans faced can be seen in the Academy Award winning film "The Best Years of our Lives."

Veterans returning from Vietnam encountered a far different scene. For one thing, the country turned against the war in a fairly large way, and many veterans unfortunately encountered hostility upon return home. Another problem was that transition was in many ways too rapid -- in a combat zone until one's year was up, then back in the states and discharged within several days, thanks to the speed of jet travel.

In some ways the military has learned its lessons from previous conflicts, but in other ways it has not. We can see on 60 Minutes that soldiers in units that lose people in the ongoing strife in Iraq are receiving counseling even while they remain "in country." And certainly many have earned money for college through the Montgomery GI Bill.

But in other ways the government has acted atrociously towards our veterans, especially but not exclusively those who have served in Guard and reserve units. There have been far too many stories of people being billed for their meals while in military hospitals. And Guard and reserve members have encountered unconscionable delay in attempting to obtain treatment at VA hospitals.

Congress has adderessed some other issues -- raising the amount of money paid to the families of those who die from combat related causes. But the DoD has resisted apply those payments to people who die of such injuries after they are returned to the US or to military bases overseas, even if there is a direct connection between in-country injuries and the death. And the military has absolutely stonewalled on paying in the cases of the servicemen and veterans who commit suicide.

It is the issue of suicide that may be most troubling. The Marine Corps has acknoweldged a significant increase of suicides in its ranks, which is commendable, although as of yet there has been no significant endeavor undertaken either by the Marines (my own branch of service in the 1960s) or by the other services to address the causes of such suicides.

We have placed servicemen in harms' way often without the proper preparation for the tasks to which we have assigned them. They have been asked to do things that afterwards haunt them, such as those involved in shooting and killing what turns out to be harmless civiliains, including women, children, and the elderly. We have put them into situations without the proper equipment -- the famous case of the unit that effectively munitied because they were being ordered to drive unarmored fuel trucks through a hostile environment is but one such case.

How are they treated when they return home? I see little evidence of the societal hostility encountered by many Vietnam-era vets, with one notable exception -- the soldier responsible for disclosing the horrors of Abu Ghraib has had his life threatened. But that is both a different and exceptional case, and I will not attempt to deal with it here.

Besides the lack of equal access to care at VA hospitals, there is one other area of mistreatment. Veterans are returning home after tours of duty and being forced to re-up, even if they don't want to. Because the Army, Guard, and Marines are having increasing trouble meeting their enlistment quotas, servicement who would normally go into an inactive reserve status are being threatened that if they don't re-up they will be kept in with a stop-loss order and transferred to units that scheduled to rotate back to Iraq. Further, Reservists who should be rotating off of active duty are having active tours extended, and are finding that they face additional service in the mess that Iraq continues to be.

We have come close to breaking our military. We have been unfaithful to the trust we owe those who serve not only by placing them in harm's way for no good reason, but by not fulfilling the commitments we made to them when they agreed to serve. And because others can see all of this, many who might otherwise sign up for military service arem now reluctant to do so.

We the American people have not yet been told the true costs of this war. It is not the almost 300 billion dollars that has now been committed, nor the almost 1,500 dead Americans, the additional thousands wounded and psychologically damaged, the ongoing costs for medical care for those injured, the loss of productivity of those lives shattered both physically and emotionally. It is not even just the opportunity cost of what we could have done instead with those moneys and those lives, although certainly that is important, and is an issue I will address anon. It is also the loss of trust in what our government has told us, for an increasing number of Americans. It is the use of this conflict as an excuse to to restrict civil liberties here at home, it is the involvement of Americans in torture ... but these issues are independent of the veterans.

We learned yesterday that Saddam Hussein's half-brother had been turned over by the Syrians. He was one of the aces in the "deck of cards" of high value targets we wished to capture or kill. Let's even assume a double-deck -- 104 high value targets. He we instead of going to war told each of those people that if they left and went to any country willing to take them we would give them and their families 100 million dollars for heac of the 104, the cost would have been less than 11 billion dollars, and many thousands of lives, and not having destroyed the infrastructure of a nation. Heck, if done a sliding scale, the total cost could well have been half of that, leaving 5 billion for administrative costs in setting up a transition government.

A government that betrays its trust to those it asks to serve is a government in trouble, one that, regardless of the votes it recieves, ultimately lacks legitimacy. Johnson and Nixon discovered this during the Vietnam conflict -- and it came close to destroying this society and this Republic. What we face now is, although the number of American dead and wounded are so far much less, is something far worse. Whther it is not allowing the press to see the returning caskets arrive at Dover AFB because we did not want the public to know the true cost, lying about the reasons we went to combat, refusing to provide honest accounting of projected costs in a timely matter so that the American people could factor that in to their electoral decisions, personal destruction of those who opposed going to Iraq in the first place, this government has betrayed its commitment to those whom it requires to serve on our behalf. And it its moves to use torture, to deny civil liberties, to refuse to accept oversight by Courts, Congress or independent commissions, it has demonstrated the ultimate betrayal of the veteran. We have taken lives,bodies, minds of our young [and not so young] service personnel for a lie. They are not fighting and dying to protect the US, because Iraq did not represent a threat. They are not fighting and dying so that the Iraqi people could be free -- as noted, that could be accomplished with costs far less in lives and treasure; also, Bremer as Pro-Consul has so bound any future government that that nation will be crippled economically, and to ensure that they do not reject the illegal strictures we placed on them, we are building 14 permanent bases in Iraq, an action not specifically authorized by the Congress and hence patently unconstitutional.

For those who like me opposed the war and oppose this administration, it is important not to make the mistakes made by opponents of the war in Vietnam. Even if a veteran tells you he's proud of what he did, there is no point trying to disabuse him of his beliefs. Understand that if one cannot in some way validate one's actions, one is then faced with the horrible proposition that one's participation represents acts of evil. That is a large, and unfair, burden to palce on those subject to military discipline. Rather, acknowledge their willingness to to serve -- and perhaps die -- for that in which they beleive, but then tell them in your mind the country owes them better than what they have received. Only if they want to dialog futher should you proceed with the conversation.

We know that many Vietnam-era vets surfferedn long-term problems -- alcoholism, drug addiction, homelessness, flashbacks, all kinds of psychological traumas. Regardless of what else we who opposed this war do, we should insist on the nation providing the rousrces, facilities, and access for helping those veteran of this conflict for as long as they may need sujch help, regardless of the financial cost. And that cost should be paid by dropping the tax cuts for those weathy who don't need it, and by a tax on profits for those corporations who have obsecenely profited from our adventure in Iraq.

I did not serve in Vietnam, although I served during that period. But I have seen the effects of that conflict both on this nation and on those who served. I am dedicated to the proposition that we not again misuse the lives of our military. To me to act on this belief is the highest tribute I can pay our veterans, and those who did not survive to become veterans.

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Saturday, February 26, 2005

What Is a Good Teacher? 

this is cross-posted from www.dailykos.com

One of the focuses of the NCLB education law is that every student is supposed to have a "highly qualified" teacher.  And yet the way that status is determined may have nothing to do with the teacher's effectiveness in the classroom.

When I was doing research towards my never finished doctorate I was interested in characteristics of excellent teachers, not because I thought you could develop a checklist that could then be copied [we've tried that before] but because I felt that if we examined excellent teachers we might find out that our entire approach to evaluating teachers was wrong.

I am on several list from the American Educational Research Association (AERA), one of which, AERA-K, is dedicated to issues of teaching.   It was as a result of being a member of that list that some months ago I encountered what I will offer in this diary.  

Let me note that by most normal means of evaluating teachers I usually come off fairly well -- my students do their work, perform well on tests, my records are up to date, etc. But I usually feel that the way I am observed and evaluated is not a fair or accurate reflection  of what I am like as a teacher.

When I enountered this offering, so much of it rang true to me.  So, without further ado, let me offer  you the statement by a man who done extensive research on eachers and teaching and come to the following conclusions:

Traits of a "Good" Teacher
By Alan Haskvitz

"Some say that my teaching is nonsense. Others call it lofty but impractical. But to those who have looked  inside themselves, this nonsense makes perfect sense. And to those who put it into practice, this loftiness has roots that go deep. "

First, there is no hard and fast list that tells you who is a good teacher or who is not a good teacher. However, there are traits that excellent teachers have in common. These are not the usual qualities such as being a good friend, or have a nice personality. These are what researchers from around the world have found when they watched those teachers whose students
excelled once they left that teacher's classroom. Of course, not every teacher is going to be a skillful teacher for every child and a child spends only about eight percent of the year in school which means that
regardless of the quality of teacher a supportive home environment is essential to excellent learning.

Be unsatisfied
The first trait of a high-quality teacher is that he or she is a good learner. They are always eager to learn new things, expand their knowledge base, experiment with better ways to achieve success. They are life long
learners and they produce life long learners. So, the first trait is to be unsatisfied with what is. In other words, the best teacher is always a student.

High expectations
High expectations are the second trait of outstanding teachers. I once had a principal who said that having high expectations created failure. In other words, the principal did not want to set high goals for fear of having parent complaints. In reality, setting high standards brings out the best in students and creates in them a feeling of accomplishment. They become self-reliant, learn to delay gratification, and fit more readily into adulthood where competition is inevitable. High standards are not impossible standards. Setting high expectations may require making the student uncomfortable, much like taking the training wheels off a bicycle. In other words, good teachers encourage risk taking and accept errors.

Create indepedency
Thirdly, highly effective educators are adept at monitoring student problems and progress. They remediate when necessary and differentiate as needed. To do this they use their time well. They are not the center of the classroom. The students are encouraged to look for help and answers on their own. They are passionate about not teaching, but facilitating learning. As such, they are promoting their own obsolescence. Just as a fine manager has a team in place that can operate well without him or her, a good teacher creates in a student a sense of self that lasts a lifetime.  They promote a deeper understanding or concepts and work habits than just learning the curriculum suggests. In other words, they create independency.

Fourth, they possess a deep knowledge of the subject matter and are able to manipulate, simplify, and individualize this data more easily because they are a master of it. To gain this they are not just hard workers, but have a passion for the subject. They are able to empathize with students who might not like that subject and turn that lack of enthusiasm around by presenting the facts from a different angle. In other words, their bumper sticker reads, " This teacher stops for new ideas."

Fifth, first-class teachers have a good sense of humor. They make jokes and accept jokes. They are not comedians, but they are entertaining. They tell stories, point out silly things, bring joy to difficult situations, and are not afraid of laughter. They use humor to connect to their students. In other words, excellent teachers keep the students' attention without fear.

The sixth trait is to provide quick and accurate assessment of student work. Tests and other projects are evaluated in a timely manner.  The student work may not be filled with red marks or gold stars, but it is returned with the understanding of what was right and what could be improved. Without constant evaluation a learning child cannot make the progress of a student who is guided. A helpful teacher does not discourage original thinking, but it must be proven. At all times, the best educator is looking for the student's reasoning rather than the answer. In other words, student assessment is a teacher's assessment and provides ideas of what changes need to be made for both of them to improve because they are insightful.

Seventh, the best teachers use the community as their resource. They see education as more than what is done in the classroom. They belong to civic groups, participate in organizations, and use their contacts to enhance student learning. For example, they bring in guest speakers, seek donations from the community as needs arise, and allow their students to display their work for the citizenry to critique and enjoy. They use technology as an extension of the community and find new resources to make their lessons more attractive. They use a newspaper and current events to open a child's mind to what is happening in the world and at all times they search for a teachable moment. That is any instance where a child expresses an interest in something that could be used to stimulate their learning. This includes both negative and positive items and is the main reason that lesson plans are never mentioned as a trait of good teaching because superior teachers abandon them to follow more encouraging leads. This is why educators and education is so misunderstood by those who feel that children are cans of soup, all alike and open ready for knowledge to be poured in and sealed.  Excellent teachers encourage student input and use the community to make for more invigorating teaching.  In other words, a quality instructor is a master of flexibility.

Eighth, a first-rate teacher provides an array of methods to learn. They integrate the lessons among several subjects, they have research papers, artwork, poetry, and even physical education as part of the learning process. For example, when a child is studying an explorer the teacher shows them how many miles per hour they walk, how to create a graph of the calories they would need, make a map of the trip with legend, write a journal of what they saw, draw pictures of the flora and fauna, and make a presentation of what the student felt was the best and worst part of the discovery. In other words, the proficient educator offers children a diverse array of avenues to pursue  excellence.

Ninth, a quality teacher is unaccepting.  They do not accept pat answers.  They do not accept first drafts. They do not accept false excuses. They are not the easiest teachers because of this trait. The rationale for this trait was the need for a child to be educated. Education is in essence the disciplining of the mind. A student who knows the rules knows what to expect and knows what is right. The best teachers are those that have standards that are appropriate and that build good habits. In other words, a superior teacher understands what a child needs now and in the future.

The tenth, and perhaps most interesting traits, is that a quality teacher keeps the children off balance.  The student is not bored, but challenged. When a child who has a  skillful teacher comes home they talk about what they did in class. They are riled up, they are motivated, and they know they need to be ready for the unexpected. A high-quality teacher can be dressed up in an outfit, show a video, take them to the library, have them work on a project, create lessons for one another, work on a computer, proofread a classmate's work, and invent a game to play at recess all before noon. One day is seldom like the next. There is continuity, but diversity is everywhere.

A communicator
What is of note is that not one research paper or comment said that a trait of good quality teachers were their bulletin boards, tidy rooms, easy grades, ability to write neatly, or dress well. All the traits dealt with the ability to trigger learning and that is the most important trait of all, the ability to communicate, the final trait of superior teachers.

Below are traits of good teachers as expressed by young people around the world from UNESCO.

 From Indonesia
  A great teacher smiles to his/her pupils even when they screw him up. A good teacher shows the whole wide world to the students.

 From India
One who help his students in all respects. He makes his students able to live better life. He teaches students to take decisions in all the conditions.

 From Croatia
A really good teacher should be child in his soul...

 From Ireland
It is fundamental that a teacher cares about humanity in general.

 From Chile
A good teacher is someone who can learn from his students, who can learn with them, and for them.

 From Egypt
To win their confidence should be the teacher's first aim - though strictness has to be in its place.

  From Germany
A good teacher, of course, has to be humorous... a teacher has to enjoy what she does!  Has to remember how it was when he/she was a child

A guide...
A real friend is someone who knows all about you and still he loves you. A good teacher is a good friend.
Good teaching is keeping yourself in the shoes of your students.

One who doesn't 'teach' but instead is willing to 'learn' with the child and from the child.

 From Mexico
The teacher is to the students what the rain is to the field.

 From Chad
A good teacher should answer all questions, even if they are stupid.

 From Jamaica
To become a good teacher, you not only teach the children but you also have to learn from them.

 From Nigeria
A good teacher must be prepared to be foolish if that will help his pupil attain wisdom.

Friday, February 25, 2005

A new link Quakers in the News 

Glenn Reinhart does yeoman's service by scanning various news media to find any reference to Quakers and Quakerism. Since I myself am a Friend (Quaker) I find this service invaluable.

I have added the link to the list of connections, but in case you have come to this post directly, that link is
Quakers in the News

Among the items included today are two obituaries. One is of singer / actor Johnt Raitt, father of singer Bonnie Raitt. It notes that he was both a Quaker and a Conscientious Objector. Another is of Russian Orthodox Archpriest Sergei Hackel. Most eaders would not know of him, but he has been a major figure in English-spekaing Orthodoxy for quite some time. You will also find a reference to elsewhere to the late Paul Robeson, whom I had known was raised a Quaker and married a Quaker.

Browse the site. You might find it of interest. At least, I did.

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Sunday, February 20, 2005

Your happiest memory 

There was diary and a series of comments about this on dailykos, which you can read here

I decided to post a comment. Given its contents, I decided I would cross-post here. Read, and I hope you enjoy.

in October 1974 -- an explanation
On September 21 1974 I had encountered at the Bryn Mawr train station the 17 year old daughter of people I knew from the church I then attended.  I had seen her around, both at church, and when she had visited the College (from which I finally graduated in 1973 at almost age 27  -- at the moment of this encounter I am 28  -- bear that in mind).  She was taking a year off between high school and Harvard to concentrate on her ballet.  We vaguely knew one another, but had to this point had a grand total of two conversations.

We began to chat, the train was late, so when we got to Suburban station she had missed her connecting train out to her parents' home in Wallingford (near Media).  So I offered to take her out of a cup of coffee and a piece of pie.  In that conversation, I realized how intelligent, perceptive, and sensitive she is.  To put it mildly, I was smitten.  

We celebrate that date  -- Sept 21, every year.   We also celebrate Sept. 27, which was our first formal date -- I took her out to dinner at a restaurant that no longer exists, with her parents' permission.  

The relationship was growing very quickly, albeit emotional and intellectual (and perhaps spiritually as well) and not physically.  I realzied I had fallen / grown deeply in love with this young lady, and therefore it might be unfair to keep seeing her if the relationship were not reciprocal, especially given that she had never had a date with anyone else -- she had been too busy with school and ballet and writing her poetry.

For several days I did not speak with her, trying to give her room to decide what she wanted to do.  I did touch base with her Mom every day or so, just to see how she was doing.  Then one day when I called her Mom said, "J... wants to talk to you."  Her first words were "First, I want to tell you I love you."  I probably would have trouble recalling the other words, because they did not matter.  Nothing else mattered.

I was calling from a payphone in a bar along Lancaster Pike in Bryn Mawr.  It was full of students from Villanova, and was incredibly noisy, I remember that.  I also remember going up the hill towards Rosemont where I then lived  -- please note that I said "going."  I cannot say "walking" or "running" because those terms would be inaccurate.   I was FLOATING.  

We did not marry until 1985, December 29.  We had that first year in '75-75 together before she went to college, then four years while she was at Harvard, three more while she was at Oxford, and when we finally were again in the same city we had to make major adjustments in our relationship  -- fior the first time in a  long time the "little things" required a kind of surrender that I at least had not had to deal with it.  But we survived, first in Philadelphia, then moving to Arlington VA late in 1982.

I can say with total certainty that the statement she made that day, that she loved me, has remained for the past 20+ years.  There has never been a time when she has not loved me.  I cannot say that I have been as steadfast, because in my insecurity I have doubted, wondered, wanted to run away, although the sustaining power of her love has always been there to which I could return and be comforted.   her trust and faith in me has been near absolute, and while I might doubt myself, I would never betray that trust and love.

We are both difficult people, although I am probably far more difficult.  That I write on blogs at all is largely because of her belief in me, that I had something of value to say to others, and that I could express myself in writing  -- when we started back in 1974 I would not have considered myself even a decent writer.

Most of all, I would not be a teacher without her love and support.  I was at a reunion of my original class at Haverford in 1992, chatting with a friend who was about to become a principal.  I told stories from the 6 months when I had been a teacher intern at a Quaker secondary school, the academic year before our relationship began [after I had dropped out of my first doctoral program, this in music].  When we were heading back to the room in which we were staying, she told me "You know, when you tell those stories about M---- Friends, your eyes light up and you become a different person.  Maybe you should consider becoming a teacher."  I took me almost two years to accept the wisdom of that insight, and in 1994 I quit my job to get trained as a teacher, and I have been in my own classroom  since Dec 8, 1995.  My decision has meant that she has had to work fulltime, and not devote as much time to her own scholarship and writing.  It has at times placed a real financial strain upon us.  But it was the right decision, which she prompted and has always supported.

When she comes to visit my classes, as she does at least once every year, she can see things in moment that I do not realize.  She also helps me to be more vulnerable to my students, which is quite important in how I teach.

So, I have bloviated far longer than will most people in response to the question in the diary.  I will be 59 in May.  That means for more than half of my life I have been loved by this remarkable woman.  How can any day other than the one she first told me she loved me be the best day in my life?

And thanks for asking the question.

An important diary on dailykos 

entitled "What Makes America Great" has been posted by one of my fellow indy-bloggers, media girl. I strongly suggest you go read it here

Friday, February 18, 2005

Check out the new link on the right 

It is entitled "Latest Feeds from Indie-Bloggers"

Dr. Laniac, one of us, is gathering the latest rss feed from voer 400 independent bloggers. By going to this link, you have an easy way to see what a whole lot of progressive bloggers have to say about our world. Take a look.

In case you are lazy and want to go directly to the link, it is here as well

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How the Rights wants to destroy Public Education 

I have poted on this on dailykos in a diary entry this morning.

I will not eprodcue waht I wrote here, but suggest you go to the link and read. Then take the appropriate action.

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Sunday, February 13, 2005

Second Bill of Rights 

Is the beginning of a title a book by Cass Sunstein, which you can read about at Amazon

The title comes from a section of the January 11, 1944 State of the Union message delivered by FDR -- note that we are in the midst of the Second World War.

The ideals FDR espoused SHOULD be the basis of the Democratic party's appeal to the U.S. While I would be delighted were the Republicans to endorse even 1/3 of this program, I hold out little hope for any such action on their part, given the current leadership.

These principles need to be articulated and proclaimed loudly and broadly, as what should be the basis of our civil society, that is, the basis beyond those most basic of inalienable rights as listed in the original 1791 document.

I have placed the relevant text from Roosevelt below in BOLD. Take time to read, and then make sure all you know ae aware of this statement of what we SHOULD be as a nation.


It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people--whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth--is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights--among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however--as our industrial economy expanded--these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. "Necessitous men are not free men." People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all--regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America's own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

thoughts on a teacher's week 

The title of this post should indicate that this is not a politically related post (at least not directly), but rather a reflection on my real work, that of a classroom teacher. It will have political implications, as you will discover should you have the patience to read to the end.

It is always hard for me to evaluate my own work as a classroom teacher. There are times when I know things have gone well, but also far too many occasions when i am unsatisfied because I am not reaching every student. Thus I actually enjoy when other adults are in my classroom because they can give me feedback, often ntoing things I don't notice, even when I have taped (audio or video) my instruction.

At least once a year my spouse comes and spends a day in my classes. She did so yesterday. It was not a day where I was doing a lot of "teaching" in the conventional sense. In my five 9th grade US History classes we were watching 3 clips from "Eyes on the Prize" (for which her dear friend Laurie Kahn-Leavitt was the principal researcher). I set up the clips, which totalled about 18-20 minutes, with some brief discussion about "Letter from Birmingham Jail" which they had read the night before. I also talked about how the incidents we were discussing -- Birmingham in 1963, especially the children's march, and Selma 1965 and the Edmund Pettis Bridge incident -- intersected my own life. Birmingham was shortly before I graduated from HS, and led directly into my own involvement with Civil Rights that summer, and Selma was the final catalyst to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

After the clips, many of my students were reluctant to discuss what they had just seen. To put it bluntly, many were in a state of shock. Thus it was good that they had the opportunity to switch to a different topic, to ask my wife questions -- about us, her, me, whatever, although we did have a few (5-7) minutes of discussion on the video and the civil rights movement before we moved on.

Later she told me how impressed she had been with how responsive I was to the emotions of the students, how I seemed to know which students upon whom to call, and how to change how I asked the questions in order to get a response that was meaningful to that student. I appreciated that, because I work very hard at trying to understand what makes my students tick, in order to better motivate and serve them.

She also told them something that really surprised them, and may in fact have a positive impact. She told them how depressed I get when they don't do their work or don't take it seriously, because I care so much about their success. You should have seen the expressions on the faces of some of my more problematic students. The idea that I actually cared about them was something totally alien to their concept, and in a sense may be an indication of changes I need to make in how I approach those students. Teaching is, after all, a series of overlapping relationships [thanks, Parker Palmer, for this idea], and one ignores any of these at one's own peril.

On a somewhat different tack, I received a request from the dad of one of my students. This man is involved with the famous Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins, which works with very gifted students to challenge them more. They were inquiring if I would be willing to teach AP US Government over the web this summer. I think it is unlikely, both because I have never taught the course before [I will be doing so next fall], and have not taught online. I think a large part of what makes me an effective teacher is my ability to react to what is happening in the classroom -- somehow I fell I would be missing much that is important were my only communication with the students via electronic means. Still, I am honored to be considered.

I think much of what I do in the blogosphere is not all that important, although occasionally, when I am willing to stand on principle, as I did yesterday, my involvement is important. And my other participations do serve as background text, necessary underpinnings to my being able to construct posts such as that. It is as a teacher that I perform my most valuable work. Thus it is precisely that which I must put at risk when I take stands on principle. If I am not willing to risk that which is important to me, how can I challenge my students to take similar stands on principle for what they believe. One challenge to my students this week was to ask the, as they saw in various video clips over the past 4 days people getting beaten almost to the point of death, for what would they be willing to die. That is a challengeing question to ask a 13-14-15 year old. But sometimes there are things worse than death. When the demonstrations in Birmingham seemed not to be working, when King made the decision even if he didn 't know what else to do he could go to jail with the others, at that moment he became a true leader, as Andrew Young noted. It was from that incarceration that he wrote the Letter that is such a profound statement of moral principle. And if I am to offer my students the true meaning of that lesson, I must live it myself.

So I ask you my readers, however few of you there may be, for what are you willing not only to die, but to give up all that gives your life meaning? Jesus challenged his followers, noting that whomsoever sought to save his own life would lose it, but that those who would give up their lives for his sake would have life everlasting. I am not, strictly speaking, a Christian. But I accept that idea in principle -- that unless I am willing to surrender all I hold dear, my commitment to principle is not absolute.

I accept that I will fail at this endeavor far more than I will succeed. I further accept that I cannot impose this upon others. But until and unless I attempt to live it, how can I teach it to others?

FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME OFFLINE at kber@earthlink.net Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed! Preface any messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

a thoughtful message from another blogger 

As readers may know, I am a member of the Progressive Blogger's Union, formed in the aftermath of opposition to the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to the position of Attorney General [we all strongly opposed on our blogs]. On key member of that group has posted on his own blog a message in which he addresses what he sees as the Fascism of the current administration. In light of the pending legislation to give the Secretary of Homeland Security Plenipotentiary Powers not limited bu the Constitution nor subject to review by the Courts [and act which I nevertheless believe the Courts will declare unconstitutional at least in part], I felt it very much worth making his post more widely available.

Here is the link

here is correction to the forming of the Progressive Blogger's Union, offered by DEB: Correction: Progressive Blogger Union www.pbu.blogspot.com was formed in the aftermath of the false re-election of not-my-president Bush; and is in solidarity with those opposing the nomination of Alberto Gonzales as Atty General.

So I guess it would be more correct to say that I joined in the wake of the Gonzales affair.

FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME OFFLINE at kber@earthlink.net Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed! Preface any messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Some terrific comments from a friend 

Okay, I'm prejudiced, since it is in response to the diary I posted previously. But I thought I would post her remarks, unedited in their entirety, so others could enjoy them. Here they are:

I think CONSIDERING puts the essay in just the right tone.....you have, perhaps, wisely, placed the idea of a commissioner breaking this law in its full philosophical light and correctly delineated the idea of resisting or disregarding a law as something different than breaking laws which may or may not be just so that a higher purpose can be achieved--- that of being a whistleblower and alerting Americans to the dreadful hijacking of our country by absolutists and tyrants. This puts the consideration of breaking this particular law into the realm of a tactical decision.....what would be the consequences of such an act on the process of vetting confidential and potentially damaging information by commission-members which, if not independent, are at least expected to act with integrity. Would civil disobedience, which is, in effect, what you ask us to consider here, be jeopardizing the public's access to future oversight and information..... ie could commissions function with mutual  trust if they did not agree to abide by certain ground rules? Would the result of such a drastic and inflammatory act be worth the price?-- that is the calculus.

One thing I remember from my years in the civil rights movement is that the rank and file often acted out of blind faith, clear vision, and inner conscience--- but the leaders who shaped the overall strategies and prioritized actions were extremely hard headed in picking their fights, gauging the consequences, and focusing their energies-- all in clear realization of the consequences not only for themselves but for others. Civil disobedience was of two sorts--- 1) protest an unjust law (freedom rides) or 2) breaking a just law in pursuit of something more important--- in the latter case, the laws that were violated often were small  and carried small penalties--- obstructing traffic, marching without a permit, refusing to disburse, trespassing.  These violations of small but reasonable laws (on the face of it) carried small but reasonable penalties.

Move ahead to Daniel Ellsburg, the whistleblower who leaked The Pentagon papers..... he violated office norms of confidentiality for a higher public good and faced serious possible consequences for doing so. He did NOT have to function as part of a committee and weigh the strategic, tactical consequences of his act with a group of leaders struggling towards consensus though he benefited by having a mature anti-war movement to take up his legal defense once he had leaked the information. In his case, the information was absolutely critical to the public's right to know and the public would probably not have learned about it in any other way. Nevertheless, the consequences were potentially catastrophic for him: a long, long prison sentence,  That he went that extra mile took courage noone has a right to expect from any other person. All we can say is. thank God for this great 20th century hero and appreciate his over the top fortitude.

Back to the case at hand--- I could never CALL on one of the commissioners to become a whistleblower, because that is too much to ask of another human. Nor have i weighed the tactical and strategic and political ramifications of such an act and would hope that potential public whistleblowers from the commission give these factors very careful consideration. I would caution, despite being an admirer of Thoreau, against simply leaking the information as a gesture of personal, moral purity and an unwillingness to be complicit in fomenting or sustaining the evil of torture. But all  this is certainly a matter worth considering and considering very seriously.

One final thought--- given the Machiavellian predisposition of the Bush administration to justify breaking the law in pursuit of vaunted higher purposes-- security, freedom and democracy, etc. would civil disobedience, of the sort that violates a reasonable law for a higher good be an appropriate act? By legitimating such a stance would a willful, public whistleblower be underscoring the Bush administration's disregard for law, due process, and the clumsy but crucial niceties of the democratic process?

As Gandhi himself noted. civil disobedience relies on awakening the conscience of others to the injustice at hand--- it awakens dormant conscience. One problem with torture as practiced directly or indirectly by the Bush administration is that many people are initially in agreement with them--- many Americans will do ANYTHING to insure their own precarious sense of security and safety.  We are a people who grew up stars from Death  Wish, Billy Jack,  and Mission Impossible dispensing the brutal  but effective justice of force in a society perceived as breaking down.

We have a president aggregating to himself the divine right of kingship, very much like the early Stuarts, and perhaps the best strategies of resistance are to blog, sneak, leak anonymously,  revitalize grass roots support groups, work with faith-based and civic groups to shine the light on what is going on--- we do need to reach beyond ourselves as activists as we now have a sense of our own strength. We need to build bridges of dialogue with those on the other side of the fence and listen and as well as disseminate the information we think is vital. So many Americans, ourselves included, have an us versus them mentality right now. The best message we could deliver to other Americans is that in time we and they might be considered to be "them." As Pogo said, our mantra should be, "We have met the enemy and they are us."

Please edit, post, or quote if you have a mind to--- I do not have time to edit this very well, but I hope you can make sense of it.


FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME OFFLINE at kber@earthlink.net Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed! Preface any messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

A Call to CONSIDER Breaking the Law 

I have just posted a diary of that title at dailykos,
which may be found at http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/2/11/191458/117

I will not repeat the text here, since via the link it is readily available. I am moved to this position by part of "Letter from Birmingham Jail" portions of which are included in the diary.

Please go and read, and then comment there, or here. Thanks

FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME OFFLINE at kber@earthlink.net Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed! Preface any messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Monday, February 07, 2005

What is a "well-designed" testing program? 

This blog is a copy of a comment I posted on dailykos today here in response to this

EXCEPT that I have gone through and cleaned up the typos!!!

Define "Well-Designed" testing program :

because what I have seen teaching in Maryland and Virginia is hardly what I would call well-designed, and what I have tracked around the country while I was doing doctoral work was hardly well-designed.

Tests can provide one piece of information, but in isolation, since usually a test is but a sampling of a domain, regardless of where you set test scores you will get errors  -- either false positive, that is, people who pass that administration because of an artificially high score when the cut score is set too low [to eliminate false negative];   or false negatives, when a person scores artificially low on that particular administration and the cut score is set too high [to elmiinate false positives],   --  or a mixture of both because the cut score is set somewhere in the middle.

Most of the tests that are being used are NOT designed to measure a minimum competence level, but to sort people.  That's one problem.   Another is that a test that allows valid inferences to be drawn for one purpose, that is, how well the student is performing, is almost certainly not designed to allow the drawing of valid inferences for other purposes, that is, how well the school is performing.   The two are not the same.  And the problem is even worse when using only multiple choice items that allow for only one correct answer in domains where another answer may be partially right  -- this binary scoring fails to give meaningful information even about what the student knows or does not know.  And that assumes that the question is well designed, which I assure you is quite often NOT the case.

You want to argue first things first.  NCLB is not just the testing, it is how the tests are being misused.  The entire way Annual Yearly Progress is being measured, incluidng in subgroups,  pretty much guarantees that most schools are going to be found not to measure up  .. and that is clearly the intent, regardless of what is stated.

We are taking guidance on testing from people from Texas.  May I remind you that the so-called Houston Miracle under Rod Paige was FAKE  -- students were tested in 10th grade, but minorities were held back in 9th grade for two or three years 'til they dropped out.  But they didn't count as dropouts because they would be coded as intending to get a GED.  You had high schools in Houston claiming dropout rates of less than 5% when the system as a whole ws graduating less than 40% of those who entered in 7th grade.  Walt Haney of Boston Colelge took all this apart BEFORE Congress passed the monstrosity of NCLB.

First things first  -- people learn to read by reading, and learn to do math by doing math.  The real purpose of tests should be to inform both the student and the teacher of what the student does not understand and for which s/he needs help.  But these tests serve no such purpose.  And the measuring of this year's group of 10th graders against next year's tells you nothing  --  you have no idea how the characteristics [prior knowledge, socioeconomics, reading or math ability, etc.] compare between the two cohorts.  Uncontrolled variance in the cohorts may account for as much as 90% of the difference in performance.

We have been down this road many times before.   This bill is designed to bash public schools, transfer money to testing companies   [gee, Harcourt is based in Texas,  and Harold McGraw is a close personal friend of the Bush family], try to shift funds to charters [did you know the Jeb Bush forced the Florida Teachers' pension -- for public schools teachers  -- to buy the controlling interest in Edison Schools, that disaster of a for-profit business founded by Chris Whittle and touted by the likes of Bill Bennett and Lamar Alexander] and tutoring companies [Kaplan must be loving this, and remember, they are the MOST profitable division of the company that owns the Washington Post and Newsweek].

I tried to persaude people in Congress that this program would be a disaster.  I exchanged emails with George Miller.  I lobbied my own Congressman and talked with his point person on education.  Democrats went along because they thought they would get more Federal money for public schools.   Hah.   They got more mandates, which more than  exceed in cost any additional money, and some of the money they already had will be transfered away from them.

NCLB is a sham.  That is why Republican legislatures are objecting.  The only reason the Utah legislature did not formally oppose before the election is that they were warned if they did so they might find a military base or two suddenly being closed.  

NCLB has done more damage to public schools than  did that atrocity and inaccurate report entitled A Nation at Risk  (whose executive summary did not even agree with its own contents, and whose main assumption, that we were going to suffer disastrously in economics to places like Japan, has clearly been demonstrated to be false), and that is saying something.

Hey, Democrats are as much to blame.  Mark Warner here in Virginia has bought into the idea of testing.  Bill Clinton was head of NGA when they helped produce the atrocious GOALS 2000 during the Bush I presidency  [remember, we were going to be First in the World in Math and Science by 200  --  so what happened?   is it possible tht the changes we made then DAMAGED our public schools?  Have we learned NOTHING??].

Sorry, on this one I not only disagree, I do so vehemently, not just from my experience as a classroom teacher, but as one who is published on the subject, who has done extenseive reading in the literature on educational policy and the effects in particular of various testing regimes.

FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME OFFLINE at kber@earthlink.net Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed! Preface any messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Is anyone out there? 

I have been reluctant to put up a site counter, because I'm afraid of ouw few the visits to this sit are. So this is a test .. if you visit, PLEASE leave a comment, so that I know that you did. And you, Leaves on the Current, you don't have to, since I know you look, and even as I write this you are reading previous posts

FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME OFFLINE at kber@earthlink.net Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed! Preface any messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Kevin Martin -- worse that Michael Powell? 

The president is nominating Kevin J. Martin to replace Michael Powell as head of the FCC. If anything, Martin would be a greater threat to the First Amendment.

One can examine his official biography to see how embedded (I love to use that term) he is in the right wing machine

- involved with economic policy at the White House -- we know that means favoring the corporate interests

- worked in Independent Counsel's office -- involvement with Ken Starr, right?

- law firm is Wiley, Rein and Fielding, a firm known for it's Republican connections (as in Fred Fielding)

But we really shoudn't expect much different than this -- after all, he is being appointed by a Conservative Republican president.

So why do I think he would be worse than Powell? Take a look at this letter to Brent Bozell, noting not only what he says, but also all the organizations to which the letter is copied. And for those who don't know, Bozell is a longtime player in the rightwing Republican attempts to control the media. In case you didn't know, he is the nephew of William Buckley.

Learn about Martin. Then express your concerns to your Senator, especially if s/he is on the Commerce Committee, which has oversight on the nomination. and the Commission. You might also consider writing a letter to the editor to express your concern.

FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME OFFLINE at kber@earthlink.net Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed! Preface any messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

a new site -- progressive bloggers!! 

The Progressive Bloggers Union is an outgrowth of the dailykos effort to link together kos bloggers to oppose the Gonzales nomination.

Given the inclusion of this blog, which is neither as active nor as well developed as several others, I cannot guarantee the quality of what you will encounter. But based on my experience so far as a member of this expanding community, you may well want to bookmark this site.

FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME OFFLINE at kber@earthlink.net Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed! Preface any messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Teaching is not as easy as it looks 

which is what my former student teacher decided. He knew the subject matter, as a 4.0 student majoring in history at University of Maryland. But he was in for a shock when he began first with assisting his two co-operating teachers [I shared him with another] and then when he was doing his first mini-unit for me. He could have become a decent teacher had he been willing to stick with it, but he came in thinking, as far too many do, that as long as he knew al the material he would be a wonderful teacher.

Don't get me wrong -- I would HOPE that a teacher knows the content area, although I remember that in hs one of the best classes I ever had was in Probability and Statistics [especially since it made me a far better card player!], whose teacher,John Genereaux, stayed all of one chapter ahead of the class.

Teaching requires an ability to connect with the age group in the classroom, which in this case was 9th graders. It requires patience [even if you don't always let the little darlings know how patient your really are] and it certainly requires skills at motivating others, and fear is an insufficient tool upon which to rely.

It's too bad that so many who are making policy decisions about teachers and about our schools really have so little understanding of what the teaching process is truly about. I was thinking of this because I saw what my Governor, Mark Warner, is now proposing in is capacity as chair of the National Governor's Association. Mark's a nice man, but I really do not think he gets it.

Will he be yet another Dem who has served as head of NGA that tries for the presidency? Think of his predecessors -- Clinton and Dean, to be sure. I was wondering if Dukakis was not also at some point - I do remember him being voted the most effective governor by his compatriots.

I need to make some posting on educational policy, and promise toa ttempt to do something within the next week. But as a teacher, with one more class of tests to correct, and two former students who have invited me to their Court of Honor as they become Eagle Scouts [and me someone who dropped out before Webelos] I am afraid this will be it for today's blogging.

FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME OFFLINE at kber@earthlink.net Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed! Preface any messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

For shame, for shame!! 

The United States Senate should be ashamed of itself. On the Republican side only Conrad Burns had any guts - he abstained on Gonzales, refusing to endorse for Attorney General a man who has given his blessing to torture, and who was far from completely honest with the United States Senate. To those Democrats who supported Gonzales, and to those Republican "moderates" who did, this I swear -- there is little that I cannot forgive, but betraying this nation the way you did in that vote is something I will neither forgive nor forget. I will oppose you at every turn, on every issue, unless and until you publically acknowledge that your vote in support of Gonzales was a tragic error.

For those of you who WERE Democrats [because this vote in my opinion places you far outside the bounds of acceptable behavior for the Democratic party) I will never support you -- for reelection, for higher office, for appointed position, and I will encourage others to do as I do. You could have followed the example of Conrad Burns and simply abstained, refusing to give your endorsement to this travesty of a nomination.

FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME OFFLINE at kber@earthlink.net Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed! Preface any messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Please Watch this brief movie 

Here is a link the website of American Friends Service Committee, the Nobel Peace-Prize winning service organization of American Quakers http://www.afsc.org/

at this site you will see a link for a brief movie entitled "Waging Peace" please view the movie, and then pass it on to your friends.

On a day when the United States Senate has disgraced itself and embarrassed this nation by confirming a supporter of torture as Attorney General, making people aware of this video is one positive thing you CAN do.

UPDATED link is now correct -- also corrected a few typos

FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME OFFLINE at kber@earthlink.net Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed! Preface any messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005


I am posting below the exact contents of an email I just received. The press -- and the public -- should be outraged by this plagiarism [thanks to Oliver Willis of Oliverwillis.com for sending this out]


A passage from Bush's speech is lifted from FDR's 1941 State of The Union. DIRECTLY LIFTED:

"Our third responsibility to future generations is to leave them an America that is safe from danger, and protected by peace. We will pass along to our children all the freedoms we enjoy - and chief among them is freedom from fear."

[note from teacherken the plagiarism is the three words "freedom from fear"]

Also the basis for 4 of Rockwell's most famous paintings:


The Plagiarist In Chief is STEALING from FDR's state of the union while he tries to destructively privatize the social security system.

FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME OFFLINE at kber@earthlink.net Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed! Preface any messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

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