TEACHERS AND TENURE

Please feel free to discredit this post for opinions based on naked favoritism, but here goes: I like teachers. I think teaching is an honorable profession, often conducted under very challenging circumstances. Now it t is true that my wife is a teacher, that my sister was a teacher, that I have cousins who are or were teachers, and that about 80 percent of my wife’s extended family were or are teachers. In addition, much of what I learned during the first decades of my life was taught to me by teachers, and I’m grateful for their efforts.

Recently the tenure system has come under attack. Tenure, as you probably know, is an employment status in which teachers who have proven themselves after a few years on the job are protected from being fired without cause. It is often misdefined as a guarantee of lifetime employment. It is not. But it does make it hard to fire teachers.

Why is this important? Because schools are insanely political and emotional environments. Teachers work in buildings full of young people who are by definition immature, and who are prone to all sorts of irrational if not dangerous behavior. If these children are not among the many who are neglected, they are often overprotected by militant parents who try to manipulate the school for their child’s advantage. Teachers, like front line soldiers, are usually asked to carry the weight for systemic failures.

Why is tenure important? I know a teacher who did not have tenure, who complained that the dilapidated school where she taught did not have a science lab that met the State Education Department’s minimum standards for a functioning lab: it didn’t have a sink. That teacher was let go at the end of the term. I know a teacher who did not have tenure who protested when most of the school’s white students, even the mediocre ones, were placed in AP sections, while nearly all of the school’s black and hispanic students, even the bright ones, were left in regular sections. That teacher was let go at the end of the year. I know a teacher with outstanding credentials and reviews who was let go at the end of her probation period, while younger teachers who were less qualified and less capable but who were cheaper were kept on.

Here’s one: I know a teacher who did not have tenure who confiscated a cel phone from a student who was playing with it during class, a clear violation of school regulations. She put it in a drawer. When her attention was distracted during dismissal, someone removed it from the drawer. The student’s mother, who was an active school parent, demanded that the teacher pay for the phone–and the principal agreed! The teacher, represented by her union, fought the decision, and won. She was let go at the end of the term.

Now certain right wingers, like the New York Post and occasional journalist Campbell Brown are using a few bad apples who abuse the tenure system to indict the teaching profession, the tenure system, and the teachers unions. The New York Post found cases where teachers who were guilty of incompetence, of insulting students, and even changing test scores escaped dismissal and received lighter punishments. A California court has said that the system tenure violates students’ rights.

No one is going to defend incompetence. Teachers who are incompetent or who misbehave should be punished appropriately. But maladministration of the system is not a reason to get rid of the system itself.

It’s not really a mystery who is at the root of this campaign. Teachers unions are among the last strong unions in this country. They are a powerful political force. The right is using the bad apples in the system to discredit the union, and along the way, to strip protection from some of the hardest working, most dedicated, least fairly compensated professionals in the country.

In attacking teachers, the right is doing something similar to what the left did in the sixties when it attacked police. Sure, reforms were necessary, necessary, and today’s police are far more professional in the past. But those police were not existing in a vacuum. There were massive social changes taking place. The tensions and the disturbances that those changes created were played out in the streets every day, and we thought nothing of asking undertrained, underfunded, underpaid police to go out and keep a lid on racial tensions, a drug explosion, changing family structures and so on. Today’s teachers are in the same posiiton, asked to teach children amidst an rconomic stagnation, social divisions, racial tension, and so on.

It all gets dropped in the teacher’s lap. Instead of of supporting them, instead of protesting inadequately funded schools, the right plays this nasty, disgraceful game.

MAD MEN AT MIDSEASON

I am so woefully behind in my blogging that I am only now getting around to subjects that weeks or months old! However, if the thought has survived rattling around in my head all this time, I suppose it deserves recording.

532f31451379d1442812bd08_mad-men-7-full-cast-tableauLike many people, I was happy with the final episode of Mad Men‘s demi-season. Don survived a plot against him, enriched his partners, relocated his rapport with Peggy, and signed off with Megan sadly but maturely. Roger asserted himself. Bert Cooper signed off with a song. Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Don, Peggy and Pete ended the show as the model workplace family, sharing dinner at Burger Chef. What could go wrong?

Well, given that Matthew Weiner has to bring everybody back for another half season, the answer, potentially, is a lot. One could see the series ending on a lift of sorts, but I don’t think that would appeal to Professor Weiner’s view of that era. One senses a tragedy in the offing. Sally swept up in drugs, or a Kent State-like shooting? Megan meeting Manson on the wrong side of a blade? I kind of doubt it. Peggy and Joan on the upswing? Yes, incrementally. The only fate I feel I see for sure is that of Pete Campbell, who I believe is destined for a significant post at the Committee to Re-Elect the President. As for Don? It’s hard to say. What happened to America after the sixties?

FIGHT THE POWER–WITH MAKE-UP!

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I loved the article by Robinson Meyer in The Atlantic about how individuals can fight the panoptic power of CCTV and other surveillance devices just by slathering on some face paint.

According to Meyer, “the pixel-calculating machinations of facial recognition algorithms” are thwarted by connivingly applied make up, which transforms one’s f“ace into a mess of unremarkable pixels.” To confuse the computer, one has to apply the make up in patterns that at work against the usual contours of the face. “The patterns are called computer vision dazzle (or CV dazzle). When it works, CV dazzle keeps facial-recognition algorithms from seeing a face. The technique takes its name from the dazzle camouflage of the two World Wars: The Great Power navies sought to protect their ships not by hiding them among the waves but by obscuring their size and movement. CV dazzle was developed by the artist, designer, and entrepreneur, Adam Harvey, who created the patterns as a student at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. The idea behind CV dazzle is simple. Facial recognition algorithms look for certain patterns when they analyze images: patterns of light and dark in the cheekbones, or the way color is distributed on the nose bridge—a baseline amount of symmetry. These hallmarks all betray the uniqueness of a human visage. If you obstruct them, the algorithm can’t separate a face from any other swath of pixels.”

THE LONGER RIDERS, JULY 26: GETTYSBURG

DSCN0306Our escape from the Badlands took us into Minnesota (we were tempted to visit Northfield, where the James Gang met its Waterloo) znd then to Iowa, where we spent Wednesday night, then down through Illinois, Indiana and finally back to Lexington, where were spent Thursday night, and then onto Chamberburg PA, where we spent Friday night. On Saturday we returned to the familiar landscape of Gettysburg, just for a short visit to Cemetery Ridge. We wanted to see the place where the brave Alonzo Cushing, brother of Will Cushing, fired his guns at the advancing confederates until he drew, literally, his last breath. Afterwards, Ginny and I ate the Farnsworth House, then leisurely returned to our home sweet home. Below, Ginny at the monument to the New York 42nd, the Tamany Regiment; me, upholding an ancient family tradition.
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THE LONGER RIDERS, JULY 21: THE LONGEST DAY

DSCN0167We spent forever driving in South Dakota today, and if you’ve ever spent the day driving in South Dakota, you know how long forever is. On the up side, Cara got to pose with four other great Americans at Mount Rushmore. We also saw some wild horses, which we on the mild side of wild. In the supposedly animal-rich Custer National Park, some wild burros did their best to uphold the local animals’ reputation.
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THE LONGER RIDERS, JULY 18: CHEYENNE

get-attachment-6Thursday was devoted to a long, punishing drive across Kansas, where we saw the first of many wind turbines that we would all across the great American prairie, up to Fort Collins, Colorado, where we stayed in a room that had a hit tub and shower right next to the bed. Weird. On Friday, we drove up to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where we connected with Ginny’s parents, Bill and Marie Jackson. We then went to see the rodeo at Cheyenne Frontier Days, which I would have enjoyed more had I not suffered an allergy attack that left my eyes burning and itching and watering profusely. The events featured bull riding, barrel racing, steer roping, and two kinds of bronco busting. Very tough and highly killed athletes.
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THE LONGER RIDERS, JULY 16: MEMPHIS AND BEYOND

DSCN0051On Wednesday we motored across Tennessee to see Graceland, the surprisingly modest home of Elvis Presley. Meh. Banal testosterone-infused sixties styles. The miracle is that he happened; his personal effects are just leftovers. Here is his grave, left, and on the right, the only bit of wit I saw in the place :
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Afterwards, we left Tennessee, drove through Arkansas, Missouri, and into Kansas, where we spent the night in Topeka.