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The sexiest woman on TV

Christina Hendricks at the premiere of Serenity.
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Christina Hendricks in Mad Men.

Season 1 is out in Tsutaya video rental stores in Japan. The series has some memorable characters; Don Draper is merely conventionally mysterious (tho his suggestion for advertising Kodak‘s slide-projector wheel is unforgettable), but son-of-the-founder Roger Sterling is witty and charming, throwing zinging one-liners like they are going out of style, and his paramour, the sexy Joan (Christina Hendricks) really make the series, as far as I’m concerned. (Joan: “You’d like to turn me into a paperweight – frozen in glass, on my back with my legs in the air.” Roger: “You paint that picture… and leave?!?”)

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Scenes from the Battleground responds

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OldAndrew, blogger of Scenes from the Battleground, took the trouble to comment on my earlier post (his comment is here, my original blog post is here). Thank you, OldAndrew.

I’ve been reading more of his blog posts. At first,  it was horrified fascination that kept me reading his stuff, kinda like rubbernecking a traffic accident. I kept asking myself how I would react in this or that situation; could I handle it? How?

Our situations are so different, it’s presumptuous of me to comment. I obviously have no idea what it’s like, and what works for me in my situation (with docile, well-behaved young adults for the most part, in a culture that avoids confrontation) would clearly not work in his.

Andrew wrote,

in many cultures young people in at least part of this range would be considered to be adults, so we should be very careful about excuses based on the idea that they are too young to behave.

I was not suggesting that children’s bad behaviour should be excused simply because they are young, nor that, because they are young, they are therefore likely to misbehave. I wrote that, the teacher is the (oldest) adult in the room, the master of ceremonies, and a representative of the institution (he belongs there more than the students do, at least), and therefore it seems more reasonable to expect the teacher to modify his behaviour if students are not cooperating or whatever. Modifying his behaviour does not mean capitulating; it means, “stop doing what isn’t working, or leading to escalation, and try something else.”

If you’re the adult in the room, the responsibility is on you; you are more likely than the students to act responsibly; you are the one who should act responsibly. That doesn’t let the students off the hook for irresponsible, rude, violent or whatever inappropriate behaviour, of course, but someone’s got to make the first move, take the initiative.

Stories about my successes would soon become stories about people who tried to stop me, or what I had to do to avoid being stopped. (Similarly, for the successes of other people I know.)… With regard to the claim of focussing on the negatives, I would suggest that this is how you change things. I am interested in improvement, and the biggest single obstacle to this in most schools is the attitude that it is “negative” to identify what isn’t working.

Well, is he changing things? Is focussing on the negatives working as a strategy? I agree that not looking squarely at what’s wrong is a huge hindrance to solving a problem.

I’m reminded of chapters in John Taylor Gatto’s book, in which he recounts, blow by blow, the mind-numbing stupidity, red-tape and petty-mindedness of administrators and bureaucrats that he came up against in 30 years of teaching in New York, at the end of which he quit:

An accumulation of disgust and frustration which grew too heavy to be borne finally did me in.

I read the Scenes from the Battleground blog for different reasons than OldAndrew writes it: I read it to learn, to put myself by proxy in new situations and try them on for size. When I read an article like the F… off Factor, for instance, I want to read OldAndrews wise words of advice on how to effectively deal with such a situation. Instead, I get a long-assed transcript of some such exchanges that he or a colleague experienced, followed by all the things the school didn’t do to penalize the student. OK. We got the picture. Bad behaviour where OldAndrew is, is often either unpunished or not punished effectively enough.

When I was a schoolboy, a large, rugby-playing tough-guy pupil, in the corridor waiting to go into class and with his back to the door, started an imitation of the teacher to amuse his friends. The teacher himself suddenly came out and stood right by Rugby Player, who, noticing everyone had gone quiet, turned around. The teacher promptly slapped his face, and while Rugby Player stood there, in shock or pondering which wrestling move to use on this teacher, the teacher snapped, “Well don’t just stand there or I’ll do it again!”

Now that’s a success story: an example of bad behaviour promptly and sucessfully quelled (leaving aside the question of whether the punishment fit the “crime”). It also worked well as a deterrent because there were about 30 students watching. That’s what I want to read.

OldAndrew does a great job of giving an alternative point of view to the dominant socialist one. His blog is up there on my “every teacher should read this” list, along withMelanie Phillips’  All Must Have Prizes, Gatto’s Underground History of American Education and E.D. Hirsch’s The Schools We Need (and why we don’t have them).

Only OldAndrew can tell what will work and what won’t in his situation. Looking at his situation from my armchair, thousands of miles away, my considered opinion is that, it’s hopeless. I see no way out left by OldAndrew’s stated views except increased coercion in some form or other. Maybe that will work. I’m not holding my breath.

OMG, one of Zemanta’s “related articles” below is to a Guardian article about infant drop-outs. It’s a strain to read this after Scenes from the Battleground. Have your paper bag ready in case you feel unwell:

With about 1,000 primary-age pupils now permanently excluded from schools each year, the programme aims to use early intervention to nip behavioural problems in the bud. The scheme, based in a vocational education centre for older pupils in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, was launched this autumn at the request of a group of local schools. Each week, 12 pupils will spend a day here, learning a range of vocational skills including construction, hairdressing and catering… “We left this blank,” explains the regional support manager for the project, Sandra Ladapo, “so the children could make this their ‘feelings wall’.”… The thinking is that if children are unable to settle at school and are badly behaved or can’t communicate with classmates, there are probably deeper issues that need resolving. One of the jobs of the staff here is to give the children space to express themselves. “From our side, it’s giving these little ones self-esteem, self-confidence, to start engaging them so they can begin to read and write,” Ladapo says.  … Away from the melee, she produces some of the notes she’s received about her new charges: “Challenging – needs constant reminders about tasks and accepted behaviour; poor social skills; little respect for females both in class and at break; fights and chews his T-shirt; doesn’t feel the need to be in school.”.. the children will do real practical tasks. The construction students will make toys for them to paint and take home; cakes will be prepared to be baked in the centre’s main kitchen, and the tutors who supervise the older boys will teach them to make little brick walls…. Claire has settled down with Brad, five, Sam, six, and Neil, seven, to make a “happy chart”. The idea is to set out how they feel they should behave while they’re here

The scheme, based in a vocational education centre for older pupils in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, was launched this autumn at the request of a group of local schools. Translation: Please take them off our hands, please!

their ‘feelings wall’ This just sounds manipulative: what child would feel a need for or an interest in his or her own “feelings wall”? Or are we talking PTSD here?

doesn’t feel the need to be in school.” What child does? Gimme a break!

“From our side, it’s giving these little ones self-esteem, self-confidence, Is it possible to give someone self-esteem?

children will do real practical tasks. The construction students will make toys for them to paint and take home; cakes will be prepared to be baked in the centre’s main kitchen, and the tutors who supervise the older boys will teach them to make little brick walls. Didn’t Montessori figure all this out about 100 years ago?

Claire has settled down with Brad, five, Sam, six, and Neil, seven, to make a “happy chart”. The idea is to set out how they feel they should behave while they’re here What’s a “happy chart”? And what’s it got to do with clarifying to these tots how they should behave?

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Robin Hood of Las Vegas

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So reads the Telegraph headline, but it’s a little misleading (woah! says you – a newspaper that writes attention-grabbing headlines, even if they’re not quite accurate! That’s a new one!).

The gambler is not actually stealing from the rich. Still, it’s an interesting story about a remarkable man who gambles for good causes and gives the money away.  Presumably he keeps some to live on.

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Unchuffed, or how to double an mp3 file size without trying

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I tried posting a rather long (2 hours) mp3 file, but WordPress told me the maximum size was 24 mb (the file size was 32 mb). So I downloaded Audacity and cut the file in half and saved the 2 chunks, then tried uploading them. Would you believe it? Again, WordPress, unimpressed, tells me the maximum file size is 25 mb and my file is too big to upload and that’s the second time I’ve told you!

Impossible! I checked the size of the 2 files and each one is, wait for it, 54 mb! I just doubled the size of my mp3 file by cutting in half. What the hell?

Back to the drawing board…

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What is the value of schooling?

2nd half of 14th century
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I have been visiting the website daily since I discovered it a few months ago.

Today, I came across this blog entry by Tim Swanson, Is there a future for b-schools? (= business schools) which led me to this article Did Joseph Wharton Cause the US Financial Meltdown?(Oct. 21, 2008). I don’t have any kind of opinion about business schools, and all I know about the Wharton School is that that is where Catherine Austin Fitts graduated from, but a couple of paragraphs in the article caught my attention, because they refer to a theme I’ve been thinking about a great deal over the last few years: what is the point of going to school?

It is worth noting that among the most highly regarded presidents of the 19th century, only one, Thomas Jefferson, attended college or university. Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, and Grover Cleveland were all self-educated. These three are generally recognized as more original and independent than most of their executive peers.


Andrew Carnegie was a telegrapher and then worked his way up in the Pennsylvania Railroad; his book learning was extensive, but he acquired it from the library, not a blackboard.

I like to tell the story about a good friend of mine, highly educated and intelligent, who graduated from a British university without attending any lectures: being smart, he quickly figured out that the lecturers were all spouting information which was already available in the library, so that was where he spent most of his time (he no doubt had seminars and other small classes which he had to attend).

So, if you can acquire an education without going to school, just by making judicious use of a good library, then what is the point of going to school/university?

Or to ask the question a different way: what (if any) value can a school/university add that a good library can not?

One thing books cannot do is talk back. A book cannot question or challenge the understanding which the reader takes from it; to some extent, a real live teacher can. A teacher can challenge a student’s understanding by asking questions, by requiring the student to express his/her opinions with supporting arguments, a teacher can challenge a student’s reasoning; a book can do none of these things.

This post will be tagged “the bleeding obvious”.

The rest of the article takes a long time to make a fairly simple point: that business schools taught their graduates they could ignore reality, or create their own, and that this led to the financial meltdown. It contains some nuggets, but I’ll blog about them separately. I’m surprised the article made no mention of David X. Li and his mathematical formulae.

A year ago, it was hardly unthinkable that a math wizard like David X. Li migh someday earn a Nobel Prize. After all, financial economists—even Wall Street quants—have received the Nobel in economics before, and Li’s work on measuring risk has had more impact, more quickly, than previous Nobel Prize-winning contributions to the field. Today, though, as dazed bankers, politicians, regulators, and investors survey the wreckage of the biggest financial meltdown since the Great Depression, Li is probably thankful he still has a job in finance at all. Not that his achievement should be dismissed. He took a notoriously tough nut—determining correlation, or how seemingly disparate events are related—and cracked it wide open with a simple and elegant mathematical formula, one that would become ubiquitous in finance worldwide.

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