Feb 22

Nader and Being Progressive


The man’s ego knows no bounds. He has lost the backing of the progressives who spoke out for him in 2000. He is losing the support of the groups he founded — as Public Citizen backs away from him. Matt Gross says it well, when he writes:

Not content with having destroyed, in 2000, the reputation he had built up over a lifetime as a trusted champion of progressive causes, Ralph Nader is once again embarking on one of the greatest ego quests in American history.

While most progressives have turned away from the mirror long enough to look at the Bush administration and realize that defeating Dubya is the only priority in 2004, old Ralph is still transfixed by his own gaze. (Look how beautiful and righteous I am!)

And what’s so sad is this just reminds me of my PIRG days. So many of the upper echelon of the PIRG staffers had the same sort of self-righteous arrogance that Nader showed on Meet the Press today. There really were only two sides to every argument, the PIRG side and all the wrong people. I didn’t always agree with the exact PIRG line, and it was for that reason that my time at PIRG was short-lived. I managed to redefine my own activism into education, choosing teaching as my grass-roots activism, but I also saw a ton of 22 year olds look at PIRG and think, "Well, if this is the activist life — and if this is how progressives act — I’ll just go to law school instead." Clearly, PIRG isn’t the only model, just as Nader is not the only progressive out there, but they were one of the organizations that hired young people. Just as Nader’s prominence in presidental politics gives him a very powerful voice in the progressive movement. Both Nader and the PIRGs wanted such loyalty from their supporters that dissent wasn’t really part of the equation.

I don’t know… when the Nation, when members of the party you were claiming to help to build (why did you abandon the Greens, Ralph?), when so many people who should be your supporters beg you not to run, and you choose not to listen to any of them, why should any of us listen to you?

By the way: The Nation’s Open Letter to Nader is a must read.

Feb 21

Blogging Tips

Via Palimpsest, here’s a nice quick Blog Tip sheet. I’ve been meaning to start to put together resources like there, and I just haven’t.

I encourage Beacon bloggers to go to Six Apart’s Movable Type web site and start to figure out what nifty stuff blogs can do.

Update: I just installed MT-blacklist, so if you have been getting spam-comments in your blog, those should disappear now.

Feb 21

Saturday Silliness

There’s some real writing to do today, but first…

Via Kerry Lutz and John Scalzi: Are You Yankee or Dixie? — I test out as 35% — Strongly Yankee. Kat tests out as 53% — slightly Dixie. Her Midwestern / Southern / New York City muttness made for a fun test.

And more fun: (Also from Kerry)

I am an Intellectual

Which America Hating Minority Are You?

Take More Robert & Tim Quizzes
Watch Robert & Tim Cartoons

Feb 19

Justly Married

Photographer Derek Powazek gives us a pretty wonderful photo gallery of what marriage looks like. These photos were taken on February 15, on the steps of City Hall, in San Francisco. And what is most striking about the photos is the join and love in the couples’ eyes. There were so many great photos, but there’s one that told such a story. (Granted, I have no idea of the story is true… but, hey… even if it’s not, it still is.)

The picture was of these two older men coming out of the main entrace of City Hall. I would guess they were in their 60s. They are both dressed in suits, one of them in a three-piece suit, and they are holding hands. They are smiling, although it also appears that the bright light is a bit of a shock as they step out into the light. And as I looked at the picture, I imagined that hey could have been waiting for this moment for decades. I imagined their lives at home, together for twenty… thirty… forty years… and I pictured them hearing that the mayor was going to do this. I can imagine them getting dressed and hurrying down to City Hall, not even quite believing that after so long, there might be some small official recognition of their marriage on the part of our government. The looks on their faces somehow convey joy, love, relief…

And for me, there’s an obvious next question: Our society doesn’t allow that kind of joy why?

And in a truly bold political move, Chicao Richard Daley has spoken out in favor of gay marriage. He is into the idea of Chicago doing the same thing San Francisco has been doing.

This might be a lefty perspective, but I don’t see this issue going away, and I don’t see our side losing. Those people who are against this sound to me like those folks at the end of the 1950s-60s civil rights movement who were desperate to find excuses to deny blacks rights. Their rhetoric gets more shrill, and their arguments don’t hold up.

And to counter that, we’ve got the truth in images like this.

Happy Belated Valentines Day to All.

Feb 19

Dean’s Closing Speech

Howard Dean addressed his supporters today, and you have to hand it to the man. He can turn the progressive phrase. I do hope that Gov. Dean takes the energy of his supporters and keeps them involved. We need more grass roots activism in this country. We need people to understand that activism takes time. It’s not about one win or one race. It’s about the long haul. It’s about making the best possible choice even when you can’t make the perfect choice.

The next few years should tell us whether or not Dean’s campaign had a lasting effect. I do think that he was the first presidental candidate to understand the grass roots power of the internet. (I think that Jessie Ventura’s first run for governor figured it out first.) The problems with the Dean campaign don’t overshadow that. Now, every campaign will have to have a "blog" even if most of them don’t and won’t really understand why a blog is different than a public relations release machine.

Smart candidates will understand what Dean understood… that people will respond to candidates who use the internet to bring the candidate closer to the people. Dean seemed to thrive on his interactions with every day people, and his internet strategy captured that energy.

I can’t wait to see what he does from here.

Feb 17

Linda Darling-Hammond Scares Me

From pg. 211 and 234 of The Right To Learn:

If school-level reforms continue only by waiver and exception, they will surely evaporate in a very short time, long before good schooling spreads to the communities where it is currently most notable by its absence.


Those at the front lines of inventing more successful schools have little access to the bureaucrats who regulate from offices far away, and who, in turn, typically believe they have little to learn from the real-world work of teachers and students.

O.k. — so that’s my big fear for Beacon and the schools like Beacon. If we are a revolution by exception, then are we sustainable? Or do we merely exist on the periphery, doing right by the kids we get, but also susceptible to every political shift? I feel good that what we do at Beacon is right, but how does that spread? How does it survive?

Mike Lupinacci, an former colleague at Beacon and current principal of Central Park East Elementary School, once said that "If you want exceptional schools, you have to make exceptions." And while I agree, given the current political landscape, I also wonder how systemic change ever happens.

I used to think that if a small, progressive group of schools did things so well that their results could force larger change. The last five years have convinced me that is naive. I’ve also thought, in my darker moments, that the system was corrupt, and all we could do is preserve Beacon and hope other folks preserved what was good about their schools. That path is bad for Beacon and bad for the system.

And honestly, I don’t have the time for the entire high-stakes testing movement to run its course. I don’t want Beacon to get ruined in its wake. And that’s a lot of Darling-Hammond’s point, too.

But the question is how do it, politically… not pedagogically. That’s the tough nut to crack.

Feb 16

A Educational-Technology Manifesto

This is from James Farmer’s Incorporated Subervision, and it’s a wonderful progressive manifesto for how technology and education should co-exist:

I may be an educational technologist, I may teach online, I may write online, I may advocate others doing so and I may spend more time typing than talking, but:

  • I do not want technology to replace teachers nor do I think it ever will.
  • I don’t think online education can replace or replicate people getting together in a room.
  • I would rather study and teach in a real classroom with people, I would, seriously!

I may prefer learning face to face, I may get frustrated with online education and virtual meetings, I may get horribly depressed by the crap that gets churned out in the name of educational technology, the myths of learning objects and the anonymity of a WebCT discussion board but:

  • I do think that communicating, collaborating, expressing and exploring your learning online can be unique and amazing.
  • I do think that online education has the potential to revolutionize teaching and learning for the better.
  • I would rather blog this than stick it on the fridge at home!

It’s not the technology… it’s the pedagogy!

And I don’t have much to add. Technology allows us to talk… to create… to extend the walls of our classrooms so that the entire world can see. That’s good stuff. One teacher, projecting his lectures as a Power Point presentation on a screen at the front of the classroom does nothing but take an old methodology and jazz it up with a new tool. We have to keep remember to keep thinking about what we want our schools to be and how the new tools can help us get there.

Feb 16

The Baby-Industrial Complex

Yee gods… spent today shopping for baby stuff. Beware the Baby-Industrial Complex, I say… it’s pretty amazing what is out there. Playpens with lights and noises… High-chairs that recline… Strollers with one-touch fold-up… baby bjorns with lumbar support… monitors and wiper warm-ups and gliders and bippies and boppies and god-knows what else.

Yee gods.

Feb 16

Stretching the Programming Muscles

So… I was up until 3:30 last night writing a piece of code for our office staff. The code allows Cynthia and Luwana to automatically file a database report on whose attendance was not scanned that day. It sends an email to those teachers and sends an email by band to an administrator. It’s not that sophisticated yet, but I’m pleased with it as a first draft.

I still have to build in the search page which will allow to search on period scanning / teacher scanning. And I would love to take a crack at rewriting the "send to administrator" function, because I realize now that it would be better — and probably not that hard to code — to have the report send deliberately, not automatically, but that’s a function that may need user input.

This whole thing is a little more big-brothery than I like to make tech tools, but honestly, I would like to see us do a better job of tracking our at-risk students. (What school wouldn’t, right?) There are things we can do on the student end, but there are some things we need to do on the teacher end too. This is one of them.

And hey, it’s fun to stretch those programming muscles mid-year anyway.

Oh… and if anyone wants to take a look at the PHP code, let me know.