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, May 30, 2005


I am, as I write this, listening to the original recording of the War Requiem of Benjamin Britten.  It was written for the dedication of the new Cathedral in Coventry, the old having been destroyed in a bombing in WWII that the British knew was coming, but when they could not act to prevent it or lessen its effects by evacuation, lest the Germans know that their codes had been broken.  The piece as originally performed was clearly anti-war and intended to be healing -  the lead singers included Englishman Peter Pears (long-time companion of the composer), Russian Galina Vishnevskaya (wife of Rostropovich), and German Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

The music is powerful.  The text, which combines the war poems of Wilfred Owen (killed in 1918) and the text of the Latin Requiem Mass, is magnicent.  On this Memorial Day, I can offer no words of my own that mean as much as these.  Thus I offer the complete libretto below the fold.  If you ever can, listen to the music with text in hand.  Or with your eyes closed.



Requiem aeternam dona eis,
Domine;et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Te decet hymnus, Deus in Sion:
et tibi reddetur votum in Jerusalem;
exaudi orationem meam,
ad te omnis caro veniet.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine;
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

What passing bells
for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons
No mockeries
for them from prayers or bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the oirs,
The shrill,
demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling
for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held
to speed them at all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness
of silent minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down
of blinds.

Kyrie eleison
Christe eleison
Kyrie eleison


Dies irae, dies illa,
Solvet saeclum in favilla:
Teste David cum Sibylla.
Quantus tremor est futurus,
Quando Judex est venturus,
Cuncta stricte discussurus!
Tuba mirum spargens sonum
Per sepulchra regionum
Coget omnes ante thronum.
Mors stupebit et natura,
Cum resurget creatura,
Judicanti responsura.

Bugles sang,
saddening the evening air;
And bugles answered,
sorrowful to hear.
Voices of boys were by the river-side.
Sleep mothered them;
and left the twilight sad.
The shadow of the morrow
weighed on men.
Voices of old despondency resigned,
Bowed by the shadow of the morrow,

Liber scriptus proferetur,
In quo totum continetur,
Unde mundus judicetur.
Judex ergo cum sedebit
Quidquid latet, apparebut:
Nil inultum remanebit.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Quem patronem rogaturus,
Cum vix justus sit securus?

Rex tremendae majestatis,
Qui salvandos salvas gratis,
Salva me, fons pietatis.

Out there,
we've walked quite friendly up to Death:
Sat down and eaten with him,
cool and bland,-
Pardoned his spilling mess-tins in our hand.
We've sniffed the green thick odour
of his breath,-Our eyes wept,
but our courage didn't writhe.
He's spat at us with bullets
and he's coughed
Shrapnel. We chorused when he sang aloft;
We whistled while he shaved us
with his scythe.
Oh, Death was never enemy of ours!
We laughed at him,
we leagued with him, old chum.
No soldier's paid to kick
against his powers.
We laughed,
knowing that better men would come,
And greater wars;
when each proud fighter brags
He wars on Death - for Life; not men -
for flags.

Recordare Jesu pie,
Quod sum causa tuae viae:
Ne me perdas illa die.
Quarens me, sedisti lassus:
Redemisti crucem passus:
Tantus labor non sit cassus:
Ingemisco, tamquam reus:
Culpa rubet vultus meus:
Supplicanti parce Deus.
Qui Mariam absolvisti,
Et latronem exaudisti,
Mihi quoque spem dedisti.
Inter oves locum praesta,
Et ab haedis me sequestra,
Statuens in parte dextra.
Confutatis maledictis,
Flammis acribus addictis,
Voca me cum benedictis.
Oro supplex et acclinis
Cor contritum quasi cinis
Gere curam mei finis.

Be slowly lifted up,
thou long black arm,
Great gun towering toward Heaven,
about to curse;
Reach at that arrogance
which needs thy harm,
And beat it down before
its sins grow worse;
But when thy spell be cast complete
and whole,
May God curse thee,
and cut thee from our soul!

Dies irae, dies illa,
Solvet saeclum in favilla:
Teste David cum Sibylla.
Quantus tremor est futurus,
Quando Judex est venturus,
Cuncta stricte discussurus!

Lacrimosa dies illa,
Qua resurget ex favilla,
Judicandus homo reus:
Huic ergo parce Deus.

Move him into the sun -
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it woke him,
even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Lacrimosa dies illa...

Think how it wakes the seeds -
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-acheived, are sides,
Full-nerved - still warm -
too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?

...Qua resurget ex favilla...

Was it for this the clay grew tall?

...Judicandus homo reus.

- O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth's sleep at all?

Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem.


Domine Jesu Christe, Rex gloriae,
libera animas omnium fidelium
defunctorum de poenis inferni,
et de profundo lacu:
libera eas de ore leonis, ne absorbeat eas
tartarus, ne cadant in obscurum.

Sed signifer sanctus Michael
repraesentet eas in lucem sanctam:
Quam olim Abrahae promisisti,
et semini ejus.

So Abram rose,
and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both
of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said,
My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth
with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenched there,
And streched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo!
and angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride insteam of him.
But the old man would not so,
but slew his son, -
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

Hostias et preced tibi Domine
laudis offerimus; tu suscipe pro
animabus illis, quarum hodie
memoriam facimus: fac eas, Domine,
de morte transire ad vitam.
Quam olim Abrahae promisisti
en semini ejus.

...Quam olim Abrahae promisisti
et semini ejus.


Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus
Dominus Deus Saboath.
Pleni sunt ceoli et terra gloria tua,
Hosanna in excelsis.
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.
Hosanna in excelsis.

After the blast
of lighning from the East,
The flourish of loud clouds,
the Chariot Throne;
After the drums of time
have rolled and ceased,
And by the bronze west
long retreat is blown,
Shall life renew these bodies?
Of a truth
All death will He annul,
all tears assuage? -
Fill the void veins of Life again with youth,
And wash,
with an immortal water, Age?
When I do ask white Age
he saith not so:
"My head hangs weighed with snow."
And when I hearken to the Earth,
she saith:
"My fiery heart shrinks, aching.
It is death.
Mine ancient scars shalls not be glorified,
Nor my titanic tears,
the sea, be dried."


One ever hangs
where shelled roads part.
In this war
He too lost a limb,
But His disciples hide apart;
And now the Soldiers bear with Him.

Agnus Dei,
qui tollis peccata mundi,
dona eis requiem.

Near Golgatha strolls many a priest,
And in their faces there is pride
That they were flesh-marked by the Beast
By whom the gentle Christ's denied.

Agnus Dei,
qui tollis peccata mundi,
dona eis requiem.

The scribes on all the people shove
and bawl allegiance to the state,

Agnus Dei,
qui tollis peccata mundi...

But they who love
the greater love
Lay down their life; they do not hate.

...Dona eis requiem.

Dona nobis pacem.


Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna,
in die illa tremenda:
Quando coeli movendi sunt et terra:
Dum veneris judicare saeculum per ignem.

Tremens factus sum ego, et timeo
dum discussio venerit, atque ventura ira.
Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna.
Quando coeli movendi sunt i terra.
Dies illa, dies irae, calamitatis
et miseriae, dies magna et amara valde.
Libera me, Domine.

It seems that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel,
long since scooped
Through granites
which titanic wars had groined.
Yet also there
encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them,
one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands
as if to bless.
And no guns thumped,
or down the flues made moan.
"Strange friend,"
I said,
"here is no cause to mourn."

"None", said the other,
"save the undone years,
The hopelessness.
Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
For by my glee might
many men have laughed,
And of my weeping
something had been left,
Which must die now.
I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content
with what we spoiled.
Or, discontent, boil boldly, and be spilled.
They will be swift
with swiftness of the tigress,
None will break ranks,
though nations trek from progress.
Miss we the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood
had clogged their chariot-wheels
I would go up and wash them
from sweet wells,
Even from wells we sunk too deep for war,
Even from the sweetest wells
that ever were.
I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned
Yesterday through me
as you jabbed and killed.
I parried;
but my hands were loath and cold".
Let us sleep now..."

In paridisum deducant te Angeli;
in tuo adventu suscipiant te Martyres,
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam
Jerusalem. Chorus Angelorum te suscipiat,
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere aeternam
habeas requiem.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine:
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

In paradisum deducant etc.

Chorus Angeloru, te suscipiat etc.

Let us sleep now.

Requiescant in pace.


Sunday, May 29, 2005

Memorable teacher(s) - whom do you remember? 

NOTE: this diary first appeared on dailykos early this morning (May 29), where it spent several hours on the recommended list. Of greater importance, there was a lively dialog, a total of over 90 comments, less than 1/3 of which were mine (actually much less) where others shared their thoughts. If you enjoy what you read here, I strongly urge you to go read it here. I hope you enjoy.

And now the diary itself

This diary offers my own (good only -- I've been fortunate) examples.

I was motivated to do this by what I did yesterday -- I returned to my college for a Glee Club reunion, in which we were lead by the long-time (28 years) director of the choral groups at Haverford College, William Hartt Reese, who is now 95 years old!!!  There were people singing from as far back as the Class of 1949, which mean that people in their late 70's were still drawn to sing under this man one more time.  I would say that is an indication of his influence.  I will for myself talk about him, several other teachers at Haverford, and one teacher from my high school.  

I hope readers will keep this visible long enough that others can be inspired to offer their memories as well, and that people will feel free to share with one another.

The fold

I entered Haverford in the Fall of 1963 as a 17-year-old student wanting to major in History.   That was because of the only teacher I had had to that point who had ever challenged me.  His name was Thomas Rock, and in my senior year of High School he taught 13 of us Advanced Placement American History.  In those days we took regular American History before we took AP, so we were presumed to have the background knowledge and could explore issues in depth.  Students were admitted only with the permission of the instructor.  When as a junior I went in late April to ask Mr. Rock to admit me, we had a remarkable conversation that I still remember.  He told me that he had looked at my record and talked with my other teachers.  He ran the class like a college course, meeting for a class only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with the other two days reserved for library time and to talk with one another.  He expected the equivalent of 10 hours of outside work per week.  "I know you can do that in 5 hours, so in your case, you must agree to actually work the 10 hours, which will mean you will do the equivalent of 20 hours." he told me.  He informed me that unless I agreed to his terms he would not admit me.  I wanted very much to take the course, mainly for the college credit, so I agreed.

We were on a six marking period schedule.  Near the beginning of the 2nd marking period I went down to Haverford for my interview, carrying with me some of the papers I had done to that point in my AP class.  I remember that the man who interviewed me asked if he could borrow them for a week or so (I will return to this later).  For the first semester, three marking periods, I was the 2nd best student in the class -- Franklin Goodrich Feeley, who would be our salutatorian and go to Princeton, was getting 98's.  I was getting 94  and 95, with no one else getting more than a 91.  I was devouring history, and also beginning to learn how to write and to think.  We got to the 2nd semester, the grades had gone into Colleges, and I slacked off a bit -- my one example of "senioritis"  My average dropped to an 89.   But when I got my report card, instead of seeing that, I saw an 80.  I immediately went to see Mr. Rock.  As I walked into his room he said "I know why you're here, but before you say anything, I want to ask you something.  Do you remember our conversation of last Spring?"  I admitted that I did.  He then asked if I still had anything to say to him.  Obviously I did not.  In that 4th (of 6) marking periods I was not living up to the agreement, I was slacking off and sliding by on talent, a violation of the terms under which he admitted me to the class.  And I realized that by doing so I was not only wasting his time, I was wasting an opportunity for myself.  I went back, rededicated myself to my work, not only in his class but in my other classes, and got 95 for both of the remaining marking periods.  I also got a 5 on the AP examine without any trouble  -- what we were required to produce was far less challenging than the work I was required to do for Thomas Rock.

What did I learn from him?  First, he took the time to understand me  -- I was a very inconsistent student, doing things like scoring around 1500 on my SATs, but working only in those classes that interested me  -- as a result I was never on honor roll and did not graduate in the top 1/3 of my class.  He found a way to motivate me that worked, and as  result I not only learned the content and the relevant skills, but something far more important -- learning how to live up to what I could do, living up to my own talent, learning how to develop some intrinsic motivation.   I have often shared this story with my own students, and it is one reason I try so hard to individualize my expectations of them.

As noted, I arrived at Haverford in the Fall of 1963.  Before getting there I had already met one of the men who would most influence me.  I met Dr. Reese the Spring before when I attended the wedding of   Dave Daneker, president of the class of '63, who married a girl from my home town, Sally Masterson, Bryn Mawr College (our then sister school) '64. The Mastersons and our family were good friends, with Sally having served as an accompanist for my sister (violin) and me ('cello) on a number of occasions.  My sister performed on violin at the wedding.  At the rehearsal supper she mentioned her brother to Dr. Reese.  When I met him at the reception, his first words to me were (I have never forgotten them):  "so you're the young man coming to Haverford this Fall.  Well of course you'll sing in the glee club, and play in the orchestra, and you ARE going to major in music." I thought he was nuts --  yeah, I would do the performing, but I was going to attend as a history major.  Little did I know   ---  sophomore year around December I decided to switch to music, and when I finally graduated (in 1973) it was Bill Reese who supervised my Honors paper (on the songs of Charles Ives), and it was Bill Reese who taught me most of what I know about choral conducting, especially of amateurs, a useful skill considering the 10+ years I spent directing a capella choirs in Orthodox Churches.  Of greater importance, while he could be incredibly demanding both as a conductor and as a classroom teacher, he understood commitment to things outside of his class.  I remember that when I had returned as a 25 year old junior in 1971, I had a long talk with him -  I was serving as the manager of the soccer teams (I had been out too long to still be eligible) and occasionally that job got very demanding and I could be a bit behind in my work -- I was carrying 24 credits that first term back.  Alone of my teachers, Bill Reese understood, because Orchestra and choral groups were not academic classes, and he had had to fight over the years to carve out time for those students who wanted to participate.  I l realized from one conversation that although he never attended an athletic contest he knew which of his students had away games that might cause them to miss classes, and when they returned would often ask had the context had gone.  I learned from this the importance of showing individual concern for students, and the difference it could make in how they exerted themselves in your class.  Bill's introductory music history class was always filled to the capacity of the room.  Through his first 20 or so years one major part of that class was his listening exam -- he would play pieces of music and you would be supposed to identify, either because we had studied that piece (or had been assigned to listen to it) or because it was characteristics of a composer and we were supposed to be able to recognize the style.  For several years one of the highlights on campus would be when Dave Yellin would go on the radio station and run a contest, with people calling in, attempting to identify the pieces he was playing.  It was amazing how many people would call during that time.

My last memory of Bill Reese is something he never told us students,but which was told me by another professor, the late Bob Butman, our drama director.  During the 1950's there was a big debate among the faculty of this Quaker College whether or not to participate in the National Defense Education program, which required students to sign loyalty oaths.  Quakers do not swear oaths, but some on the faculty were arguing that this was an important source of funds for the students and also for the college.  Others were arguing that even though most students were not Quakers, it was an unfair burden to place on 17-22 year olds to make such an oath a condition of being able to attend the college.  As Bob told, it after a while, having said nothing, Bill pointed at the statement hanging on the wall of the Common Room where the faculty met, which was part of a commencement address by Isaac Sharpless to the graduating class of 1888, which reads:

I suggest that you preach truth and do righteousness as you have been taught, whereinsoever that teaching may commend itself to your consciences and your judgments. For your consciences and your judgments we have not sought to bind; and see you to it that no other institution, no political party, no social circle, no religious organization, no pet ambitions put such chains on you as would tempt you to sacrifice one iota of the moral freedom of your consciences or the intellectual freedom of your judgments.

Dr. Reese in pointing at the framed statement said "I thought this was a Quaker College, I thought those words meant something."  Bob Butman told me that the words went into him as a knife.  Bob had been in Naval Intelligence in the Pacific in WWII, but he knew that Bill had served as a cook because although not a Quaker he was still a Conscientious Objector.  Bob then took the initiative of organizing the faculty and administration, the latter then reaching out to the alumni, to raise sufficient loan and scholarship funds so that no student would feel forced to swear that oath as the only way to afford College.

I hope I have given a sense of two teachers who greatly influenced me for the good.  To avoid making this far too long, I will be far briefer in discussing some others who had a profound affect on me.  One was Roger Lane, now retired, who would later win the Bancroft Prize in History.  His first year was 1963-64.  As it happens, he was being interviewed the week after I first visited the college, which is why they asked to borrow my papers.  They asked him what he thought of my papers, and why.  His first official act at the college was to decide how much AP credit I should be granted.  Roger told me this years later when I returned as a 25 year old junior in 1971.  Roger was then divorced, and since I was so much older than the other students, even though I was not taking history (remember, I had switched to Music as a sophomore), we became good friends, and even double dated a couple of times.  He was a superb lecturer, even better as a seminar leader, and always had his classes jammed.  Himself a Yale Summa with a doctorate from Harvard, he showed as much concern for those in his class only to fulfill distribution requirements as he did for those who were intending to become professional historians (and we had quite few, several of whom are now themselves also major prize winners).  He also got the College involved with the aiding the African-American community in Ardmore, helping to establish and run a summer day camp that provided a place to learn and play and grow for the young people of that community.

There are many more great teachers of whom I could write, but I will end with the late John Davison, who passed in 1999.  John was himself a Haverford graduate, in fact the very first Music Major in the history of the college, graduating in 1951.  He did graduate studies in composition at Harvard and at Eastman School of Music, counting among his teachers Randall Thompson, and he returned to the College in 1959, where he was professor of Composition until ill health forced his retirement shortly before his death.

I first met John as a freshman.  That's because he was assigned as my faculty advisor, even though I had said I was coming as a music major.  At first I resented that, but by the end of the year, even though my advisor for Sophomore year was going to be Roger Lane, I was glad I had had him.  John was not yet married, and thus had somewhat more time for his advisees than did some other faculty.  He never lost his almost childlike innocence, and always saw the best in others.  When I almost flunked out my first semester (despite the experience of Tom Rock in high school , I was still very immature), he intervened on my behalf.  We began a life-long friendship, and when years after having dropped out of Haverford twice and NYU once, I finally decided to finish my undergraduate studies, he was a major reason I returned to Haverford.  The administration was admittedly reluctant to have me back, but John argued on my behalf, and as my advisor did not object when I took on 24 credits my first semester back.  I would up double majoring in music history and music theory, and senior year was already taking a doctoral course at Penn through our academic exchange.

What I want to share of John is perhaps the most important thing I have ever learned from any teacher.  John taught the first semester of beginning theory and composition.  Originally he had taught all the composition and theory, but by the time I returned there was another composer, the very gifted and difficult Harold Boatrite, on faculty.  Harold taught the end of the 2nd and 3rd semesters of the two-year introductory sequence, but John always taught that first semester.  He would have many students trying their hands at writing music for the very first time.  Quite frankly, many of their efforts were really lacking in value or musicality.  John would always play pieces, try to find something good he could say and demonstrate and then have us listen again.  If things needed improvement (as they often did) he would offer it not as a criticism but as a suggestion of how to make things better.  

It was amazing to see students bloom under his care.  No, few became music majors, and not that many more went on to the 2nd year of composition.  But John firmly believed in the statement from St. Paul to hold fast that which is good.  He lived his life that way.  And in the process,a young man who had grown up in a household where somewhat negative criticism was the most common form of expression began to learn something about expressing affirmation for those who were willing to take risks and try.

I have gone on long enough.  I carry a piece of each of these four men in me, as a person, and most assuredly as a teacher.  I do not come close to living up to the excellence each offered, but then I am not supposed to.  Each would tell me, as Roger Lane often did, of the importance of finding my own way, of taking from others what was appropriate, but even as I admired other things not attempting to model myself on a different person.  I have offered this diary in hopes that others will be inspired to write about their memorable teachers.  Perhaps we thereby can all become a bit more inspired.

And if the teacher who made a difference for you is still alive, even if no longer teaching, call her, visit him, write a letter.  Let all who made such a difference know it.  Those of us who teach do not always know what impact we have had upon those who pass through our classrooms.  I know the greatest reward from my own teaching is the thanks I get, sometimes years afterward, from those I taught, especially those about whom I could never be sure I was serving them well.

Monday, May 23, 2005

And now .. reflections and questions 

Today I embark on my 60th year.   That means this is not one of those major occasions, ending in a 0 or a 5.  But it is significant enough that I know this much  -- I will spend much time in reflection over the next 365 days.  As others who may read this may already have passed this point in their life, they may choose to append their insights to this thread, should they happen to encounter it.  For others, I hold no illusion that the thoughts I offer will of necessity apply in your life, but these rambling thoughts may offer you a sense of what could be awaiting you in the (not-so-?)distant future.

And so I begin.

I define myself as a teacher.  But I did not embark on on education as a full-time vocation until I was 48:  in 1994 I quit my 20+ year career in data processing and enrolled in a Masters of Arts in Teaching Program.  In the  years since I have had opportunities to leave the classroom, but I know that my role requires me to spend most of my time with adolescents in my own class.  That is not something about which I need to reflect now, and will not so long as my energy and health remain strong.  Perhaps as I approach 70 I will have to reconsider, but for now I can be grateful that society has changed enough to allow me to continue teaching until I am significantly older than i am now (assuming I can still do the job).  

Teaching is not isolated from the rest of my life.  Thus how I spend time and energy outside the classroom also matters.  I have taken time to help with several political campaigns, most notably that of Howard Dean.  Now I must question how much of that I can do and still be true to my responsibilities as a teacher.  I want my students to be active in civic life, and I believe that I must model for them such behavior.  And yet how much can offer a campaign without it detracting from the time and energy I must have to serve my students?  I have committed to Don Beyer that if he runs for the Senate I will give up coaching soccer in 2006 to be able to have some time near the end of the campaign, and to help all I can in the summer of 2006.  I have also promised Nick Lampson to help as I can via computer, which will not be much  -- I can blog on his behalf, I can send on things I notice that might be useful, I can offer advice if he wants it.  That is not too great a commitment.    

But should I be getting involved in this year's governor's race in Virginia?  I probably will not.  When I get politically involved I tend to really dedicate myself, and I do not believe that I can take that on at the same time as I am trying to organize my new course(s) in AP Government this summer.  And I am still committed to coaching soccer this fall.

How much time can I afford to spend online?  This is a serious question, because I acknowledge being an information junkie, and also acknowledge that the interchanges I have electronically often challenge me in a way that matters to me not only as a citizen but also inform my teaching.  And it is exciting to participate as I have in a variety of sites.  I have made a commitment to help with Yearlykos at least for 2006, because I do believe I have something to offer ab out educational policy, even if I have abandoned my doctorate.  But as I do the things that flow from my electronic participation, and as I do what things I will assay politically, I need to be cautious  -- I am actually both fairly shy and also quite insecure.  Thus I must ask myself, how much of what I do is because it addresses the issue of my insecurity, my at times almost pathological need for external affirmation?  It is nice to believe that I have something of value to offer others, but can I truly be the judge of that?

Then there is the home life.  I used to love to cook.  I have not really done much of that in the past few years.  Nor do I avail myself of the baby grand piano which I brought up from Florida when we closed out my Dad's apartment.  I really need to carve out time to play, because it is so much a part of who I am.

And that actually brings me to the real focus of this questioning.  It is not who I am now, but who I propose to be.  I do not accept that I will stop growing, or questioning  -- were that to happen, I would quickly shrivel emotionally and spiritually.  And then I would not be an effective teacher, which would quickly mean that I would have little purpose as a human being.

I am far too selfish and self-centered  -- heck, this post demonstrates that.  And yet I have been incredibly blessed.  And I far too often take for granted those blessings.

First and foremost there is my soulmate.  Our relationship dates back to an encounter at a train station on Sept. 21, 1974.  We knew one another slightly already, but that encounter led to our first formal date on Sept. 27.  We did not marry until December 29, 1985, because she had 4 years of college and then 3 years at Oxford.  We are both difficult people, partially because of the families in which we were raised, partially because despite others telling us how bright and gifted we are, both of us are insecure.  For a variety of reasons we have not had children of our own, although she has been a dedicated aunt to the children of her sisters (I am not so good as an uncle, either to those children or to the son and daughter of my sister, both now in their 30's).  We have been through much together, and one question on which I must focus is how I can be more loving as we go on.  How can I be supportive of what she needs to do, and when will I stop measuring costs in time and energy and opportunities and just learn to love unconditionally?  Perhaps that is one reason why we are so generous to pets  -- it teaches us something about loving.  

My wife has told my students that they don't realize how much I really care for them.  She's right, and that's wrong.  How do I as a teacher allow myself to show my vulnerability while still maintaining the the challenging standards to which I wish my students to aspire?  

And how do I learn to accept my own failures and missteps?  As one who is very insecure, I know that until I can accept -nay, embrace - my imperfections, I cannot truly be available to others.

This probably seems very unfocused and self-indulgent.  I acknowledge that.  And yet this electronic community has been a place where at times people have made themselves vulnerable, and the community has embraced them.  It is one reason I have been willing to share the pieces of my life that I have -- my teaching, our "cathouse" environment.  But that is not difficult.  

What is much harder, at least for me, is to acknowledge that I fail to live up to the most basic of my beliefs.  I finally became a Quaker because the idea of "that of God" in each person s something that resonates with me.  The problem is, I don't believe it about myself.  I have acknowledged that I am insecure.  Let me put it another way  -- I don't really believe that I can love because i find it impossible to love myself.  I have fought depression, at times severe even to the point of hospitalization, for most of my life at least back to early adolescence.  I am an extravert, I really need to interact with people, but quite frankly, now at 59, I still really do not know how.  My wife will tell you what social graces I still have not developed.  

The one thing that gives me hope is that we are still together, that she is able to tell me without reservation that she loves me, even though I drive her up the walls, and that although she know that I love her I am not really good at showing it in everyday life.  Oh, I can do the really surprising big gesture, but I do not consider myself and my daily actions as being particularly loving.

So that is the real question with which i will wrestle in this, my 60th year:  how do I learn to surrender to love?  How do I accept it when it is offered by others, for it is, and yet I run away because I feel that they are wrong, they are mistaken, they cannot be offering that to me.

It's odd, isn't it, that I  teach because I have to live for others, and yet i fear that in the very act of teaching I may be destructive because I am unwilling to make myself vulnerable.

No, I am not psychotic.  I am probably imposing by posting this here as I have now done.  I hope in my having written this I have not offended others, and apologize if I have, but  I felt this was necessary.  For myself, my teaching cannot be about information, rather it must be about empowerment of others.  That seems to be the only way I have been able to show love consistently.  And if what I offer in place such as this is to have any value beyond the ephemeral, then I must acknowledge the weaknesses and fears that too often keep who I really am hidden from others.

I believe that if we wish to transform society we must first transform ourselves.  Gandhi taught that we must become the change we wish to see.  If I wish a society that is more just, more embracing of the uniqueness of each person, that requires humility, acceptance of our own fallibility, and a willingness to get our hearts broken.  It requires vulnerability, without which there can be no love.

I don't know if I believe in God, but I want to believe in `that of God" in people.  Thus I will occasionally use God talk.  If God is love, then all we could give back to God is love.  But love is a free act, and if man is created with freedom, that freedom must include the right not to love God.  That is, if there is any restriction on the power of God, it is that God cannot create a free creature who of necessity MUST love God.  Bear with me, this is relevant.

I am afraid.  I am afraid of loving.  To love is to make oneself vulnerable.  I feel weak and unworthy, and I fear that others will discover that and reject me.  How foolish.  Because love requires vulnerability, it does not care about imperfection.  I don't know if this makes any sense.  And yet I know it at least mentally  --  I don't love my wife because she is brilliant, and I don't not love her because she has real trouble being on time (which drives me nuts, I admit it).  I love her because I have found a connection, a path that goes beyond my woundedness and insecurity, and beyond hers, that somehow sustains us.  And I believe that some for of that connectedness is possible with each person I encounter.  And that leads me to the final statement of the real question -  how do I during this my 60th year learn how to seek out the connection in each person I encounter?  George Fox said our task was to walk gladly across the Earth answering that of God in each person we encountered.   For me the first part is actually the hardest -- how do i walk gladly?  How do I let go of my insecurity long enough to see how much there is that is sheer delight in my everyday existence?  How can I let go of myself sufficiently that I become vulnerable, and thus able to answer "that of God" in each person I teach?  Maybe then I can begin to become the human being I aspire to be.  And if that begins to happen, perhaps then I will become the kind of teacher I want to be.

Feel free to comment or not.  Also feel free to call me to account on anything herein that does not sound true to you.  And please -- feel free to chastise or prod me as necessary if in my future posts I begin to again retreat behind the shell of insecurity and lack of vulnerability.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

An Evening with Sandra Day O'Connor 

Last evening (Friday, May 20), my wife and I were invited to attend an awards ceremony at the Smithsonian honoring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.  The prize is the Benjamin Franklin Creativity Laureate Prize, first awarded three years ago to Yo-Yo Ma.  It is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Associates and the Creativity Foundation, founded by B(enjamin) Franklin Kahn.  Frank, given his last name, has had a life-long interested in Franklin, which has culminated in the Creativity Foundation.

Below the fold I will give a brief explanation of the prize and the wards ceremony.  I will then offer my notes from the public session during which Justice O'Connor was interviewed by Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, after which she took some questions from the audience, the last of which I asked.   I will also include  some observations, including of her interactions afterwards at the reception.  I think some readers may be able to learn some interesting things about the most influential Justice(although she denies that part) of the current Court.


Benjamin Franklin had regularly met with a group of his gifted friends in what he called his "Junto."  He used these people as a springboard for ideas, for founding of the many institutions with which he was associated, and, as the program said last night, for becoming the honest broker of creative ideas not aligned with or encumbered by religion, politics, or royal affiliation.He also had a codicil added to his will in which he said

I wish to be useful even after my death, if possible, in forming and advancing other young men who may be serviceable to their country.

This part of his will had lead to the establishment of the award of Franklin medals to outstanding graduates of Boston Latin,. which Franklin had briefly attended before leaving prematurely to embark on his work career.

Frank Kahn made a fortune in real estate. He was the main inventor of the Real Estate Investment Trust.   In 2001 he decided to take his life-long interest in Franklin and emulate his namesake in establishing a series of awards.  These include awards to younger people at the beginning of their careers, and the Laureate award whose ceremony I attended last night.  As a first step he "reinstituted" the Junto on Franklin 294th birthday, including several of his acquaintances who are nationally and internationally recognized.  The current Junto includes such worthies as Dudley Herschbach, 1986 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, Lawrence Klein, 1980 Nobel Laureate in Economics, Laurel Ulrich, 1991 Pulitzer winner in History, Gerald Holton, Jefferson Lecturer Prize in 1981, and his daughter Laurie Leavitt-Kahn. Laurie, who was my wife's roommate as a graduate student in Oxford, is an award-winning documentary filmmaker.  Her  film of "The MIdwife's Tale" won the 1998 Emmy for non-fiction, and he recent film on "Tupperware" just won a Peabody.  As noted  before, the first award was to Yo-Yo Ma in 2002.  The next award was to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, but unfortunately he passed away before the ceremony could be held.  Last year Eric Kandel, 2000 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine, was the recipient.

One brief disclosure before continuing   -- both my wife and I have consulted to this project.  My wife has helped with the editing of Creativity Foundation materials,  and I served as a consultant to the the portion of the project that has included awards to high school aged students, parallel to the original prize Franklin himself established.

Now to last night.  The form of the ceremony is a brief explanation of the prize, which was made by Junto member James W. Pruett, who is retired as chair of the Music department of the University of North Carolina and as had of the Music Division of the Library of Congress.  Justice O'Connor then received her award, took a seat on the stage, and was interviewed for about 45 minutes by Andrea Mitchell.   She then took question from the audience for about 30 minutes more.  Finally, there was an informal reception, at which it was possible to speak with the Justice.

The early questions from Mitchell were largely about her background and how it shaped an influenced her.  I did not keep notes on that, because I heard little that was not already available through a number of sources.  Among her first remarks about the law was a rather pointed reaction to the idea that judges should be criticized for "making law" rather than interpreting it.  She notes that the U.S., following the British model, is largely a system of Common law.  Under this system it is the job of appellate judges to issue ruling which then serve as precedents, these precedents functioning as law.  This was clearly a part of the legal practice in the colonies and the states at the time the Constitution was writing.

Of the Constitution itself, she then noted that it provides a setting and a structure for government, with its clear separation of powers and the ability of each branch to have some check over the power of the other two. She also noted that the Founders had had some experience with colonial legislatures and governors attemtping to control the judiciary by things such as cutting their pay. 

When asked about her judicial philosophy, she answered indirectly"

I just take one case at a time.  I didn't come to the Court with an overarching goal except to the best I could with each case.
 She when on to say that judges cannot lead the country, or set an agenda, which is what she did as a legislator, but rather must take the cases as they come.  She also noted the US Supreme Court does not decide facts, but must take the facts as established by the trial court.  Here she made a distinction between a civil law system such as is found in most of the European Union and the British and American tradition of Common Law.  In a civil law system there is usually a separate Constitutional Court which may even be asked to rule on hypotheticals.  The U S Supreme Court can only rule on an actual case for which a record has been established at trial (except of course for those few situations for which the Constitution provides for original jurisdiction).

O'Connor went on to note that judges in the U.S. tend to be generalists, as most of our courts deal with a broad range of issues.   This was in response to a question about some of the cases on newer technology or in highly technical issues.  O'Connor noted that there are areas in which the Justices are not experts, these including things such as income tax law, new technology, and patent law.  That often requires the justices to do a great deal of reading to get up to speed on the issues before them.

She was asked about the recent complaints about the Court looking at international precedents.  She described the furor as "much ado about nothing."  She pointed out that there is an international treaty to which the U S is a party that addresses issues of civil liability in air travel.  She noted that of course the Court would want to look at what courts in other nations have said about it.  She gave the further example of laws passed here about safety requirements for passenger ships.  But what about a ship from another nation, licensed under the safety regulations of that nation, that comes to the U.S.  When do their laws apply and when do ours, and why?  How does this issue fit with international treaties and the body of international and admiralty law?  

The Justice was then asked how she felt about the growing criticism of the judiciary.  She responded that there had never been a period without some criticism of the Court.  Courts decide tough questions, tough issues, and a good case can be made for either side.  Thus the side that loses will often be quite unhappy.   She said that the current level of criticism may be more intense than we remember, but that the Court would get through it.

O'Connor said that there was another way in which our legal system is somewhat unique.  Our Court acts upon both oral arguments and written briefs.  Most other nations rely upon one or the other, but not both.  The British tradition is to allow almost unlimited oral argument, but to make little use of written argument.  The other nations in the European Union rely almost exclusively on the written arguments.  She thinks we are well served, as are the justices, by having both before them, as well as the written record of the lower Court.

Another difference in our system is the willingness of the Supreme Court (and many other appellate courts) to accept amicus briefs.  She thinks this is a good thing, and that while it increases the reading load for the Justices, it enables them to act on a more complete picture of the implications of the case.  If people want to see how up to speed the justices are, they ought to come to oral arguments.  NOTE:  based on the one case I saw argued (by  friend), I very much agree.  For her one key goal of oral arguments is to get a better sense of the the rule of law being sought will play out in the future.

The Justice noted that 35-40% of their decisions are unanimous.  She thought that was a pretty good record, considering that they tend to take the cases that were most divisive in the lower courts, such as those with different results in different circuits.

When asked about the most grateful aspect of being a justice, she listed several things.  First, it is just the privilege of being able to work on some of the most challenging legal issues in the country.  Sometimes the law is like a big puzzle, and when you work on it enough you have an "aha" moment which enables you to solved that puzzle. Beyond that what is satisfying is when you write an opinion whose support is unanimous.   But most of all, what is truly satisfying is when you write what is supposed to be a dissenting opinion and it persuades enough of your colleagues that it becomes the majority opinion.  In general, she noted

it is just work worth doing
which given how important work is to all of us is very satisfying.

The question and answer session followed.  The first question was an attempt to challenge -- I know the questioner, a Ph. D relative of Mr. Kahn.  Given that the Constitution was created to meet the needs and problem of the people of the 1780's, and that today's problems and society are very different, isn't it a disservice to `sanctify" the Constitution?  O'Connor responded that it was not, because the Constitution provides a structure.  The Framers made it tough for any one branch to run to excess over the other two branches, and that this process serves the nation well.  

Mind you they made it difficult . . . . maybe that's a good thing.
 She noted the the Constitution is largely a majoritarian document, but the the Bill of Rights  provides the anti-majoritarian protections our nation needs, and reminded the audience that without the commitment to a Bill of Rights the original Constitution would not have been ratified.

Another questioner noted that when the Constitution was established, the nation was mainly on the East Coast, and thus Washington was near the center of the nation.  Shouldn't the Court perhaps sit more in the center of the nation, to have a more complete sense of what impact the ruling would have.  O'Connor dismissed this with some gentle humor that

I'd love to have it sit in Phoenix!

In response to another question  she noted that there are four courtyards at the Court and in each courtyard there is a statue of a tortoise.  Of all the symbolism ne can find at the Court she thought this was perhaps the most appropriate, because the Court should move slowly before making radical changes.  

When asked her opinion on the current dispute on the filibuster, she sid that she was not going to share her personal opinion, that it is up to the Senate to make its own rules. When Andrea Mitchell tried to provide her by saying "until the Court decides to get involved" O'Connor demurred.

The statement I found most troubling was in response to a question if we could restrain the litiginousness of our society without restricting the rights of our citizens.   O'Connor noted that in the UK the loser in civil litigation has to pay the lawyer`s fees of the winner, and wondered if the 50 states might not want to experiment with something like this to see what the effect was.  She did acknowledge that the rights of those with no money to able to access the courts needed to be protected, and pointed out the ability of those suing to obtain lawyers on a contingency fee basis.  What she did not address, and what was troubling to me, is that those with deep pockets would have an advantage in such a scheme, as we are already seeing with things like SLAPP suits filed by large corporations with deep pockets  --  SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.  When presented with a SLAPP suit, as bad as it is now, think how worse it would be if public interest groups were to lose the suit and have to pay those expensive lawyers.  It is a form of intimidation not intended to win damages but to silence the other side.

I got to ask the final question.  I wanted to combine several ideas.  I referred back to her comments about 35-40% of the current cases being unanimous.  I asked how she and other on the Court balanced the need of the Court on some issues to speak unanimously to give a clear message to the nation, which could mean a less board ruling,  versus the need sometimes to make a sweeping statement of a basic principle.  I used as an example Brown v Board, because she had referred to the interpretation of Plessy as an example of how the way the Court ruled could be changed over time.  I noted that Warren seemed very careful to obtain a unanimous decision, knowing how controversial the decision would be, and thus Brown did not overturn Plessy, but ruled on a more narrow basis.  To this I contrasted the sweeping language in Robert Jackson's magnificent opinion in West Virginia v Barnette.  

O'Connor's response was quite interesting, and I thought quite revealing.  She began by noting that Jackson was one of the best writers the Court has ever seen.  She also noted that he was the last Justice to come to the Court without having attended law school.  She then wondered if there might be a correlation between those two factors, which of course got a bit of a laugh.   She then went on to discuss the need for balance, and her concern about the Court not moving too quickly, because it is often hard to see into the further how a ruling will play out.  She acknowledged that she is more of a small step person for precisely that reason.

I think her answer to my question shows why she has been reluctant to follow some of her more conservative brethren on things like totally overturning Roe or more recently in her willingness to continue to allow some measure of affirmative action.  She comes at things very much as the plain-spoken, common sense Westerner that she is.  She implied a concern for stability of the law where possible.  And the totality of her remarks makes clear to me that she is not happy with much of the current rhetoric by some on the right about reining in judges.

Watching and listening to her during the reception, where I had a chance to speak to her very briefly, she is a very gracious lady, with a genuine concern for others.  She gave each person her complete focus, and her remarks back usually reflected and included something of what the person had said to her.  Talking with several of the people on the Junto, I was told she is exactly like that when not in the public eye.

I think she still enjoys being on the Court.  And if I am right about her distaste for some of the current rhetoric about judges, one might well interpret that she would be reluctant to retire at this point.  She also remarked about the difference it made when she was not the only female on the Court, and my sense is she'd like to see a third woman appointed before she resigns, so that she does not leave Ginsberg alone nor is her seat viewed as a woman's seat, with her being replaced by a woman the way Marshall was replaced by Thomas.

But I also had a brief chance to talk with her husband.  My sense is that he is not in as good a shape as she is.  He was certainly not as mentally "with it", but that could be influenced by this being a night for his wife, and wanting to stay in the background.  I would guess that if she decides to step down, wanting more time with him will be a major reason.

One last observation  --- there were two Supreme Court policemen / security people, one for each of them.  They tried not to be too obtrusive, but except when the justice was onstage, one was always within 5 feet of her, listening carefully to the conversations, watching the people around.  It occurred to me that she has probably received her fair share of threats, especially by those on the right who view her continued tenure as an obstacle to seeing the law interpreted in the way they desire.

I still disagree with O'Connor on a number of key issues.  But after the evening, I cam away with a sense that she is a very grounded person, who have no inflated sense of self-importance, and who cares very deeply for the results of her work upon a nation she loves.  I'm glad I had the opportunity to attend.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Common Sense on same-sex marriage 

appeared today in a wonderful Boston Globe op-ed by Pulitzer Prize winner Ellen Goodman, entitled Score One for Cupid.  As is my usual practice with the many wonderful pieces I find on the op ed pages of the Boston Globe, I will below the fold offer a few snippets to whet your intellectual appetite, but I urge you to go to the link above and read the whole piece.  There is a reason she won that Pulitzer.


The beginning:

NOW THAT WE have celebrated the paper anniversary of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, may we pause for a moment to admit that the opponents were right: Same-sex marriage is proof of a crisis in traditional marriage.

But gay marriage is not the cause of the crisis, it's a consequence. The true culprit is, well, Cupid.

What's Love Got to Do With It? Precisely. Until roughly two centuries ago, the institution of marriage was considered far too important to leave up to the emotions of two people. Marriage was about economics and politics and, more than anything else, about creating new in-laws.

To see how far we've strayed from the rule of in-laws to the rule of love, just compare the 16th-century ''Romeo and Juliet" to the 21st century -- forgive me, Will -- ''Shrek 2." In our modern fairy tales, a father is expected to support a love match even if his daughter marries an ogre. Any mother who interferes is a ''Monster-in-Law."

another on-point snippet:

From the get-go, social conservatives warned of disaster. If love were the only criterion, people who hadn't fallen in love might remain single, people who had fallen out of love might demand divorce, and even homosexuals could lay a claim to marriage. As Coontz says, they were right. They were just 200 years early.

totally on-point:

Heterosexuals said marriage should be about love. Heterosexuals claimed the right to decide whether to have children. Heterosexuals said marriage wasn't about gender roles but about individualized relationships," says Coontz. ''Then gays and lesbians said, `Knock, knock. You are talking about me.' "

As Anne and Chad Gifford, former head of Bank of America, wrote this week in the Globe, their son's wedding ''brought home the reality that marriage is about two people who love each other and who desire to commit to a life together."

and the concluding paragraphs:

James Dobson of Focus on the Family has countered by insisting that ''the homosexual agenda is not marriage for gays. It is marriage for no one." But the nearly 6,200 gay couples who got married in Massachusetts suggest quite the opposite. Marriage, with all its vulnerability, remains the gold standard of relationships.

Conventional wisdom tells us that gay marriage mobilized the religious right and helped turn the 2004 election. But here, as they say, the sky didn't fall, the Red Sox won the World Series -- and public approval rating for same-sex marriage went up from 40 percent to 60 percent.

Over the years, same-sex marriages will be subject to the usual ups and downs, risks and rewards. But now, love has everything to do with it.

I hope this has given you a good sense.  But these snippets do not do justice to the piece.  Please, go read the entire thing.

no one is forcing any religion to perform any wedding that violates its precepts.  The relationships that many gays are seeking to get recognized are far more stable than many of the heterosexual marriages that are supposed to be being threatened --  after all, our divorce rate is around 50%, and it is interesting how many lean-right political leadership has been through at least one broken marriage.  Heck, St Ronald the Reagan had a divorce.

The rest of the world is recognizing that this is a fundamental human right  --  or are we to assume that such nations are Netherlands, Canada and even Spain are moving in the direction of accepting same-sex relationships.  Perhaps we won't officially call it marriage, given sensibilities  -- perhaps then what we should do is call it a civil union license, and drop the idea that the state issues anyh marriage license, and leave "marriage" to individual religious bodies  -- which might in cases like the metropolitan Community Church, some Friends Meetings, and perhaps a few other groups include the union of gays.

I know this  -- marriage is not just for procreation, or it would be illegal for senior citizens to marry one another. Arguments used against gay marriage have been used against interracial marriage, against interreligious marriage, etc.  

I think that standing up for the rights of ALL people will in the long term a winning political strategy.  In the mean time, it is the right moral thing to do.  And mayb e that is more important than  winning.  If we learned nothing from this last presidential cycle, if you don't stand for something, if your only claim is electability, you won't get elected.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

EDUCATION you won't believe -- or will you?? 

what you will encounter in the four articles to which I am about to expose you.  These came across my path in the past two days.   For each I will provide the title and link, a biref summary, and perhaps one to four snippets, depending on the length of the actual piece.

Then, my dear friends, you can decide which of the four if any you wish to go and actually read.  You may laugh.   You may cry.   You may rage in anger and frustration.  

If you care about educational issues, you will find each of the articles will "touch" you in some way.  And now, to the task at hand.Our first piece, from The Texas Observer and written by Emily Pyle is entitled Te$t Market High-stakes tests aren't good for students, teachers, or schools. So who are they good for? and it is about Sandy kress and his business dealings.  If ou don't know who Sandy Kress is, you have not been paying attention to who has actually been making educational policy and why.  Nominally a Democrat, his involvement with educational policy and Bush goes beack to Texas.  Here are several brief samples.

Here's the beginning:

A committee hearing in the basement of the Texas Capitol on February 28 offered a glimpse of what the next phase of public school reform in this country might look like. The House Public Education Committee heard testimony on House Bill 2, an omnibus school finance and reform package. If the bill passes and Texas continues to serve as a national blueprint for school reform, the rest of the country should brace for more tests, with more riding on those tests than ever. The new legislation would inject additional "accountability" into public education, this time by expanding standardized testing in high schools, and tying funding, including teacher salaries, to performance on state exams. Those proposals aren't popular in many quarters. Eighteen people representing teachers, administrators, parents, and public school advocates testified against the bill. They asked for fewer testing mandates and more public school funding. The critics of the bill are part of a growing movement against the Texas education model, enshrined in the landmark federal law No Child Left Behind. Opponents say the current focus on testing degrades education and drains resources from the neediest schools.

Only one witness testified in favor of the bill. There was a small stir as Sandy Kress came to the microphone; in gatherings like this, he is something of a celebrity. Ten years ago, public school accountability was a vague, unenforceable ideal from free market enthusiasts who wanted to see schools run more like businesses. Kress, a Dallas lawyer, was serving what would be his last, tumultuous term as president of the Dallas school board. Fellow board members were calling the newspaper to denounce him as a racist and a bully. The fortunes of the reform movement and of Kress have risen together. He is one of the principal designers of No Child Left Behind, and has used his knowledge and connections to earn millions as a high-powered lobbyist for test publishers.  

A second snippet of how Kress presents:

"A decade earlier, Texas was going backwards," Kress told the committee. "Graduation rates were going down. Our minority youngsters were going nowhere." Now, he insisted, because of accountability, schools are better. The committee should go further, and faster--more tests, shorter deadlines, tougher standards. It was a radically different perspective than that voiced by other witnesses. Of course, unlike other witnesses, Kress was not lobbying on behalf of schools, teachers, or students, but a coalition of business interests who have pushed their version of school reform in Texas for more than a decade.

Kress can be an appealing witness--unusually alert and impassioned, with a voice that readily conveys sincerity in the faintest of Dallas inflections. He champions cash incentives for teachers who improve student test scores, but says they should be used primarily to draw talented teachers into the poorest schools. (Business groups use incentives as a means to side-step blanket pay raises, teachers' groups say.)  

Kress had been on the Dallas school board, had become its president, and it was probably him caught on tape making racist remarks.  He denied it, but did not run again. And then looked for another way to get involved with education.

He didn't have long to wait. A year later, Kress moved to Austin, where he already had friends. In 1993, he had worked with Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock on the first draft of the Texas accountability system, which introduced the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills test. He had briefed George W. Bush on education policy during his 1994 run against incumbent Ann Richards. Once in Austin, Kress helped Gov. Bush lobby for pet reforms like ending social promotion. As a paid consultant for the Governor's Business Council, Kress traveled across the state pushing Bush's education agenda. He also served as a board member of the Texas Business and Education Coalition, and a lobbyist for TBEC's lobbying arm, Texans for Education. By 1998, Kress was working for Akin Gump. Through the firm, Kress held lobbying contracts for McGraw-Hill, the textbook publishing company that had long-standing personal ties to the Bush family. Kress was one of the architects of the Governor's Reading Initiative, which eventually landed McGraw-Hill the lion's share of the Texas textbook market.

In 2000, Kress helped Bush craft the education platform that became the centerpiece of "compassionate conservativism" and stumped for Bush's plan throughout the campaign, telling the story of the "Texas miracle"--rising test scores, happy urban school kids, a bright new future--again and again. When Bush finally secured his victory, he took Kress along with him to Washington, D.C. Once inside the Beltway, Kress played key roles in crafting and passing No Child Left Behind. Officially still a Democrat, he was instrumental in putting together the bipartisan push behind the bill, pulling Democratic lawmakers Ted Kennedy, George Miller, and John Boehner into the president's court. The law that took shape required states to test every student in the third through eighth grades and once in high school, and publicize the scores. By 2014, all students, including those in special education and those with limited English skills, would have to pass the exam. To that end, the states would establish "adequate yearly progress" or AYP standards. Schools that receive Title I funding--federal aid for schools with high numbers of poor, minority, and at-risk students--would be penalized if they failed to meet the standards for three years running.  

Let me conclude my examination  of this article with a series of brief snippets, which will show you how Kress has PERSONALLY PROFITED from his work in education.  I will offer parts of several paragraphs:

Bush signed No Child Left Behind into law in January 2002. Five months later, Kress registered with the U.S. Secretary of the Senate as a lobbyist for NCS Pearson. Kress specializes in helping his clients tailor themselves to the requirements of No Child Left Behind, something Pearson has done with startling success. . . .    Pearson had been a bit player in the education market, concentrating on the scoring of standardized tests. In 2000, however, Pearson acquired National Computer Systems. . . .Since then, Pearson has built an accountability empire of sorts, becoming the third-largest testing company in the country. . . .

NCS Pearson publishes software systems that allow teachers to create, administer, and score "diagnostic" tests that purport to show how well students are learning by demonstrating in part how prepared they are for state tests. Subsidiary Pearson Educational Measurement holds test design contracts in states with large testing programs, like Florida and Texas. Pearson Education, another subsidiary, publishes reading, math, science, art, and music curricula for grades K-12. Other subsidiaries offer online testing, data management services, and professional training for teachers, including an online master's degree program. The company claims to have at least one product placed in 50,000 schools nationwide.

Another of Kress's clients, Educational Testing Services, Inc., also made a sudden market surge in the wake of No Child Left Behind. . . .

Kress also lobbies for HOSTS Learning, which publishes online testing tools and an associated line of curricular materials and for Kumon North America, a rising star in the brand-new after-school tutoring market. Other clients include Community Education Partners, a for-profit school management company that runs alternative campuses for students with disciplinary problems, as well as companies that help schools and districts collect, manage, and report the volume of data required by No Child Left Behind.


Let's move on. Our next piece is from The Virginia Journal of Education and is entitled FIGHTING CRIME, NCLB STYLE.  It is written by Mark Angle, the principal of Amherst Elementary School in Amherst County].  After presenting his bona fides as a supporter of high standards for all, he introduces the premise of his piece, which is about the underlying absuridty of NCLB.  I will offer only this selection.  You really do want to read the entire piece.

I support standards, I appreciate assessments and I value disaggregating data. What, then, is my problem? The 100 percent standard to which politicians are determined to hold us. To illustrate my point, I've come up with my own legislative agenda to combat crime. I think we would all agree that reducing and eventually eliminating crime is a worthy goal, just like increasing achievement for all students. Thus, in the spirit of No Child Left Behind, I present No Criminal Breaking Laws (NCBL).

The first thing that NCBL does is hold individual police precincts accountable for eliminating crime by setting "reasonable" Crime Reduction Benchmarks (CRBs) that, by 2013-14, completely eliminate all crime. Each year, precincts will be required to publish all crime statistics, which media outlets will carry. Precincts will be expected to provide activities for families so as to decrease the probability that they will engage in any criminal activity. Additionally, all police officers will be expected to engage in ongoing professional development so they can learn how to be better police officers and thus reach the goal of eliminating all crime.

The third article for your reading please is from The Roanoke Times in Southwest Virginia and is by a freelance writer and paragelal named  Betsy Biesenbach.  It is entitled Promise of learning standards unfulfilled
.  Here's the beginning:

In 1977, I was enrolled in what was then Radford College. As with most bachelor's degree programs, ours required several courses that were not directly related to our majors, but intended rather to turn us into well-rounded people.

I vividly remember the first day of Art 101. The professor stood in front of the class with a slide of Leonardo DaVinci's "The Last Supper" projected on the screen behind him. He was trying to explain perspective by pointing out that the landscape you see in the window behind the foreground figures looks realistic because it was painted from the viewpoint of someone who would be standing in the room. Apparently there were several people who had never heard of the concept, and just weren't getting it.

Finally, in desperation, the professor said: "It's like train tracks going off in the distance."

And a voice piped up from the back of the room: "I don't see no train tracks in that there pitcher."

I realized right then that the education I had received in well-to-do Fairfax County was vastly different from that which students in other parts of the state had gotten. So in the mid-'90s, when I heard that Virginia was instituting a Standards of Learning test, I thought it was a great idea. Why, I reasoned, shouldn't a kid living in the Northern Neck or far Southwest Virginia have the same opportunities I had?

Now that I have a child in public school, I have changed my mind completely.  

and the concluding part, which after you read, you will want to read what I have omitted to see why she feels as she does:

I don't blame my son's teachers for wasting his time on this test.

In fact, I admire them for even getting out of bed in the morning and coming to work. I'm sure their training did not prepare them to teach children to merely parrot the answers to questions dreamed up by someone who may never have set foot in a third-grade classroom. I also don't blame the principals, the school administration or the school board, whose jobs are hanging on the test scores.

I blame the people who thought up this test and the ones who have implemented it so that our schools pass or fail based only on this one criterion. I blame the people who turned a really good idea into something that has nothing to do with educating our children, and which, in the end, will probably turn many of them off to learning.

Our final piece is also from Virginia, and is written by Olympia Meola of The Richmond Times-Dispatch.  It describes what recently happened in suburban Henrico County when students were undergoing computerized testing.  This MAY make you laugh, at it should at least make you groan.  I will offer only the very beginning.  You may be able to figure out what happens next, but go red the rest of this relatively short article to find out why.  It is entitled Test Glitch  Halts SOL Testing

Some Henrico County high school students taking Standards of Learning tests online this week got locked up after coming across a pimp.


Not a real pimp, though. The word "pimp."


A randomly generated security code, made up of a long combination of numbers and letters, was being sent to computers at several high schools from an online-testing software program.


Monday, May 09, 2005

NCLB is an atrocity 

that has no real purpose except to destroy public schools. NCLB = "No Child Left Behind" which is the title use for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act rrewrite done under this administration. I could offer all kinds of details -- how the testing scheme as set up up is already causing schools at the elementary and soemtimes middle school level to drop time and funding for subjects that are not tested -- this currently includes science, which will be added in a few years, but definitely any kind of social studies, and art, music and PE. I could explain how the requirements for Annual Yearly Progress guarantee that every school will eventually be found wanting -- no school will be 2014 be able to reach 100% proficiency in each disaggregated category for each grade, and it will only take one group in one grade for that school to be found wanting. I could further explain how as currently drawn NCLB allows for shifting of resources to private tutoring companies with no requirements for accountability on their part, even as the justification for the shift of funds is based on a regimen of testing as the only measure of accountability.

I can do all this, and much more. I will not, at least not directly, because I have written so often, both here and elsewhere, on the subject of education, and much of what I have written has in some way addresssed NCLB. Instead I will be grateful that at least for the present it looks like the Congress has a little sense and will not at this time expand the testing regimen further to high schools.

I will then offer you links for a number of resources -- that is, diaries which I have posted, sometimes here bu always at dailykos (which is why I will give links for the posting there) that address NCLB and other issues. Click, read, and then think about your responses. If you wish to comment, or to contact me, do so by posting a comment to this diary here. Thanks.

I have done many education-related diaries at dailykos. The best single place to go for them is for my Education Meta Diary 3, which includes imbedded in it a recursive set of links - to metadiar#2 which has a llink for the first metadiary. For each educational diary listed in each metadiary, you will find some annotation as to the contents and purpose of that diary.

Since Meta Dairy #3 was posted on April 30, I have added the following additional educational-related diaries.

What's Wrong Wtih Education, which contains the contents of an email sent to a listserv of people with concerns about high stakes testing -- itself a major issue even independent of how much it has increased under NCLB. I think you will find it useful.

High Standards from Virginia, from another email to that same group. In this case someone who is a mother (and herself a former Virginia teacher of the year) explores some of the problems with the high stakes tests in Virginia -- the title is ironic, as you will see.

If you truly care about education contains a series of annotated links for learning more about educational issues. It is quite worth going through. Let me just list several particularly appropriate to this post:

- No Child Left Behind grassroots organization
- NoChildLeft.com - which describes itself as "a site advocating a sound approach to school improvement."

I do hope you take the time to explore these links. I do not see how you can educate yourself about the law and its impact on real education in this country and still remain in any fashion a supporter of the law.

This diary has been posted as my effort as part of the Progressive Bloggers' Union -- it is the 19th joint effort (I have not participated in many), and thus I put in this code for technorati and other methods of linking: PBU19

Friday, May 06, 2005

If you truly care about education ... 

it is helpful if you are aware of resources that can help keep you informed.  Since I am not only a teacher, but also ABD in Educational Administration and Policy Studies and very much personally concerned with issues of educational policy,a number of my diaries tend to focus on matters of education.

This morning's offering will offer you a number of resources you might want to examine as time and your interests permit. These may or may not overlap (at least in part) with some of the things about which I have posted before.  I assure you that all are worth the time to explore if they coincide at all with those issues that concern you.

Arizona State University offers a number of electronic resources about education.  One of these is Education Review, which is an electronic journal of book reviews.  On the hom page you will find links for reviews in English, Spanish and Portuguese, as well as an additional link for brief reivews(about a paragraph on each book).  Major books get a more complete treatment.  The home page provides a list of the most recent reviews.

One recent review which  is of interest to me as a classroom teacher is of a book entitled Towards Coherence between Classroom Assessment and Accountability.. Let me offer the paragraph that describes the structure of the book:

This book is divided into four parts. Part one is an introduction chapter. Part two include five source chapters, each devoted to one accountability system in reasonable detail. The focus is on how coherence is achieved between daily classroom activities and accountability system. Two of the five systems are from countries other than the United States, one from Australia and the other from the Great Britain. This seems to show that while different countries may have different educational systems, the need of such coherence is shared. Part three have ten commentary chapters. They either evaluate the five systems in Part two or address some other important issues on how to establish the coherence. Contributors are either authors of the source chapters or experts in the educational assessment field. Diverse perspectives are reflected in those commentary chapters. Part four is a summary chapter, talking about the appropriate degree of coherence.


Another resource from ASU is the online and peer-reviewed journal about policy entitled Education Policy Analysis Archives.  Currently edited by Sherman Dorn of the Univesity of South Florida (whose name I list because he is also an alumnus of Haverford College and we `Fords tend to take every advantage to brag on our alma mater), it provides access to the articles it offers through abstracts of the first 7 volumes (1993 through 1999 -  for more recent volumes the abstract is imbedded at the start of each article), a search capability, and an index of all volumes.  The is a hot-linked list of recent articles on the home page.

One recent article that might be of interest is entitled ,Toward an Objective Evaluation of Teacher Performance: The Use of Variance Partitioning Analysis.  Here is the abstract:

Evaluation of teacher performance is usually done with the use of ratings made by students, peers, and principals or supervisors, and at times, selfratings made by the teachers themselves. The trouble with this practice is that it is obviously subjective, and vulnerable to what Glass and Martinez call the "politics of teacher evaluation," as well as to professional incapacities of the raters. The value-added analysis (VAA) model is one attempt to make evaluation objective and evidenced-based. However, the VAA model--especially that of the Tennessee Value Added Assessment System (TVAAS) developed by Dr. William Sanders--appears flawed essentially because it posits the untenable assumption that the gain score of students (value added) is attributable only and only to the teacher(s), ignoring other significant explanators of student achievement like IQ and socio-economic status. Further, the use of the gain score (value-added) as a dependent variable appears hobbled with the validity threat called "statistical regression," as well as the problem of isolating the conflated effects of two or more teachers. The proposed variance partitioning analysis (VPA) model seeks to partition the total variance of the dependent variable (post-test student achievement) into various portions representing: first, the effects attributable to the set of teacher factors; second, effects attributable to the set of control variables the most important of which are IQ of the student, his pretest score on that particular dependent variable, and some measures of his socio-economic status; and third, the unexplained effects/variance. It is not difficult to see that when the second and third quanta of variance are partitioned out of the total variance of the dependent variable, what remains is that attributable to the teacher. Two measures of teacher effect are hereby proposed: the proportional teacher effect and the direct teacher effect.  

I have noted several times that I belong to the Assessment Reform Network of Fairtest.   One of our participants has taken it upon himself to put together a listing of web resources on testing and assessment.  Here is the text of the most recent version.  He has included his email for those who would wish to offer comments or to suggest additional resources which should be included.

Web Sites: Testing and Assessment

The following are updated at least weekly or monthly

The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) works to end the misuses and flaws of standardized testing and  to ensure that evaluation of students, teachers and schools is  fair, open, valid and educationally beneficial.   http://www.Fairtest.org/

Susan Ohanian's  huge and useful collection of stuff, news stories, commentary, http://susanohanian.org/

Critical and dependable independent analyses of research and policy documents, http://nochildleft.com

Rethinking Schools, an independent, progressive quarterly periodical : www.rethinkingschools.org

Harvard Civil Rights Project: http://www.law.harvard.edu/civilrights/

Education Policy Research Unit, (EPRU ) Arizona State Univ. Independent analyses of research and policy documents in areas such as student performance standards, assessment, and curriculum. EPRU disseminates its reports, analyses and other documents to policy makers, educators

and the public.    http://www.educationanalysis.org/

Applied Research Center: Progressive, dependable, focus on race and public policy including testing http://www.arc.org

NCLBgrassroots.org, a website tracking news articles from every state on the No Child Left Behind Act and monitoring how communities are faring under the law.


National Council  of Teachers of English


Designs for Change is a educational research and reform organization. Mission is to serve as a catalyst for major improvements in the public schools serving the 50 largest cities in the country, with emphasis on Chicago.


National Education Association's (NEA) updates on the national  lawsuit, also a useful tool for sending letters to Bush and Congress  


The Florida Coalition for Assessment Reform, Inc. has a web site that's updated weekly. Their work isn't national in scope, but includes a weekly newsletter and archives of F-TREND, Florida Test Reform Email News Digest, now in its third volume. http://www.fcar.info/

http://www.RougeForum.org/, includes articles on public policy from a left perspective including testing. Also Rich Gibson's Education Page For Democratic Society has extensive resources on California 's  tests, the Michigan MEAP, and testing in general


Assembled by hberlak@yahoo.com   5-05


Those interested in eudcational issues already know that some of the strongest opposition ot the federally imposed testing mandates imposted by the "No Child Left Behind" education law are found in the very RED state of Utah.  But assessment is not just about testing.  The also very RED state of Nebraska takes a different approach to assessment.  Here is the text of another email from the assessment reform network.:

Nebraska is proving that assessment begins locally AND can produce a state assessment system:  STARS (School Based Teacher Led Assessment Reporting System). Certainly one of the most promising things around, check it out here:


The United States Department of Education provides a webpage with the Approved State Accountability Plans under the NCLB law.  These are provided as links to pdfs.  You can read that of your state, or of any other state in which you are itnterested.

No Child Left is a site which says it is "a site advocating a sound approach to school improvement.  It provides a monthly online "magazine" on releveant educational issues that contains a varied content.  To whet your appetite, here is an email discussing sevral features in the current issue, and which contains near the top a link to which you can go to subscribe to future email alerts:

No Child Left

Volume III, Number 5, May, 2005

This month's issue offers three articles and a cartoon

at http://m1e.net/c?40065049-ef9OvLk5XXBdY%40970214-nG3KElwaST9Bs

Encourage colleagues to subscribe for free at http://m1e.net/c?40065049-Ge/fbl3siP1JY%40970215-rW0u6CvWED0is

1. The Annual Testing Myth


By Jamie McKenzie

Many of the ideas and strategies embedded in NCLB/Helter-Skelter are just plain foolish. Beyond foolish. They are untested, unvalidated  and potentially damaging. Annual testing ranks high on the list of foolish, untested NCLB ideas. In this article, McKenzie offers eight reasons the imposition of annual testing by the FEDs is a bad idea.

2. No Gas Pump Left Behind (Reproduced below in full.)


By Jamie McKenzie

In this parody, Jamie McKenzie lampoons the NCLB/Helter-Skelter experience by describing the FEDs' new program to elevate gas prices at every gas pump across the land.

3. The World Bank's Possibly Chilling Agenda

http://m1e.net/c?40065049-4fZf5wmlIbnNw%40970218-LR/5lEpPcEwD2 By Lois Weiner

The rhetorical premise of NCLB, that the federal government will finally hold public schools throughout the nation accountable for their failure to educate poor and working class Hispanic and African American students, has been shown by many authors to mask its key purpose: to create a privatized system of public education that has a narrow, vocationalized curriculum enforced through use of standardized tests. In this article, Weiner looks at World Bank strategies to narrow educational agendas in poor countries.

4. The May Cartoon - "Throwing a Few Bones"


Faced with a revolt against the absurdly inflexible rules and regulations invented to accompany NCLB/Helter-Skelter, the new Ed Secretary has been smiling and throwing bones but making no changes worth writing home about.




Smooth talk now substitutes for substance and honest listening. We have a Secretary who never worked in a school. How did that happen?

I hope these resources prove useful to you.  Have a nice day.

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