Monthly Archives: June 2014

She’s as Madeloni as Hell

Wednesday 26 June 2014

And she’s not gonna take this anymore!

Barbara Madeloni, newly-elected president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA), is outraged at the technocratic neo-liberal hyper-capitalistic anti-democratic profit-driven corporatist rich male white supremacist privatization of American public education. A former psychologist, Ms Madeloni taught high school English for a few years. This apparently gave her enough street cred to direct a teacher preparation program at UMass Amherst. She describes herself as a “social justice activist.” Her chief bête noire is London-based Pearson PLC, publishers and purveyors of all sorts of educational materials, including curricula, standardized tests, and new teacher evaluation kits. This last bit has Ms Madeloni in a mighty snit.

“Pearson,” says she, “is the head of a monster,” alluding, clumsily, to the mythical Hydra, whose heads grow back when severed. Or is she perhaps more subtly alluding to Latin caput, head, as the base of “capital?” In any case she clearly regards herself as a heroic slayer of polycephalous saurians. Which particular head is she striking at? Pearson’s Education division, together with the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE) and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), have created and sell a program called edTPA for assessing the job-readiness of teacher candidates in schools of education. If adopted by a state, teacher candidates will need to pass the edTPA to obtain licensure. Among the qualifications are some standardized tests in the subject content and a requirement that would-be teachers allow themselves to be filmed in demonstration classes.

I’ve done a fair bit of teacher evaluations and I’ve hired and mentored quite a few young teachers in their first year or two. Were I still doing so, I would find this program very worthwhile. If I were a beginning teacher myself, I would appreciate the close attention to my preparation, the feedback from experienced people, and the additional assurances accompanying my licensure. If I were a district personnel officer, I would certainly give it a try; if it didn’t work, I’d quit using it. Seems simple enough.

So why is Ms Madeloni so hacked off, so to speak, about edTPA? Let us count the ways.

1. The tests of the program are standardized. So what? say you. Perhaps you didn’t know it, but standardization in education is a manifestation of white supremacy. That’s right. See, standardization is all about “getting rid of differences,” since everyone takes the same test or same kind of test. That’s bad because it assumes established norms and standards equally applicable to all. And who establishes norms and standards? White supremacists do, that’s who! Just like the Grand Dragon and his Hydras! Coincidence? You be the judge.

2. Pearson is a for-profit capitalist corporation. That phrase, in case you didn’t know, is synonymous with “anti-democratic” among a certain set. The invasion of the private sector into public education is “a deep undoing of the democratic project,” at least for persons such as Ms Madeloni and Diane Ravitch. You, as I, might have been deluded into thinking that free enterprise and democracy in America have something to do with each other. Ah, not when Malefactors of Great Wealth are involved, “millionaires and billionaires” (a verbal tic of Ravitch’s, picked up, perhaps, from our Fundamentally-Transformative Leader-from-Behind) who seek to gut the heretofore citizen-making Great American School System for the sake of filthy lucre, leaving poor, black, and brown children without resources and scattering curricular detritus everywhere.

3. The program is anti-union. First, the people who score the edTPA assessments are non-union “piece-work” laborers who are paid seventy-five bucks a pop. Who should be doing that work? Unionized professors in schools of Education, such as Ms Madeloni was at UMass Amherst — until she was canned for refusing, and encouraging her students to refuse, to participate in edTPA. So Pearson is a sweat-shop operator. Second, the program disqualifies some candidates from obtaining teaching licensure. YOU might think that’s a good thing, Mr or Mrs Citizen Parent. But that means fewer dues-paying tenured union members, and that means less money, and that means diminishing political power. We can’t just sit back and let that happen.

4. The scoring of teacher candidate tests and especially the filming of demonstration classes is  “the gaze of a centralized authority” in a surveillance state, Ms Madeloni warns. Imagine Big Brother glaring out from a telescreen to denounce Goldstein, or, keeping with the lizard theme here, Sauron’s eye in Lord of the Rings. A genuine teacher is not supposed to go into the classroom with plans and a “script,” you see. No, “you shouldn’t know what’s going to happen in the classroom,” she asserts. The goal of a class is to “create empathy.” Ms Madeloni seems to be a follower of Martha Nussbaum in this respect. The teacher and students are to “discover” stuff together, without all that planning and preparation done just to appease snoopy administrators and to keep profits flowing to rich white corporate men.

Where to begin? Might as well take them in order.

The notion that standardized tests in particular — and standards at all in general — are a product of white supremacy makes sense only in the doublespeak of social justice activists. If genuine equality does not produce desired results in terms of neat mathematical ratios of genders, ethnicities, sexual styles and myriad other criteria, then the norms and standards are plainly flawed and must be adjusted in any way necessary to achieve those results. Inequality is thus the new Equality. Let us call this one of those Conflicts of Vision and move on.

Private sector bad, public sector good. From the POTUS to the OWS this is now an invidious mantra. The idea that for-profit interest in education is harmful to our democracy will not sit well with private schools, tutoring services, or students. And let’s not forget that the world’s worst despotic, anti-democratic states also have had and still do have compulsory public education, with no school options, no private-sector involvement. Finally, you may be sure that the influence and money of “progressive” millionaires and billionaires, such as those massaged by the NEA’s high-level operative John Stocks and the Democracy Alliance, is perfectly acceptable to Ms Madeloni.

It is ludicrous for Ms Madeloni to complain about a “highly centralized authority.” American public education, from its founding by Horace Mann upon the statist Prussian model, has always been and remains a thoroughly socialist undertaking. More to the point, the teachers unions owe their very existence and strength to that same highly centralized authority; the two go hand in hand. And as for standardization, it was the Progressive educational technocrats of the early 20th century who set the American system on the efficiency-measurement plan. See Thorndike, Edward L.

Ed schools have ever been an embarrassment, as noted by Rita Kramer and David Labaree, (though for very different reasons), incubators of social justice activists but poor preparation for the noble work of teaching. They could use some help from outside. Beginning teachers need support and structure. They need good plans and curricular guidelines. They must come ready to the classroom, with very good organizational skills. They must have the confidence that comes from knowing that their preparation, their practical training, has been very good. They derive strength from that. And students need their new teachers to be all that and more. It happens often enough that entering teachers are not qualified despite — or because of — their ed school preparation. Follow the longitudinal pass rates of Massachusetts’ MTEL program from 1998 on (here) as one example.

Ms Madeloni says new teachers are aware that “things are not going well in public education.” She means especially the various threats to union-protected teacher tenure (aka “due process”). As a union leader, she will have to acknowledge the increasing public animosity toward and suspicion of the teacher unions (not teachers themselves) as legitimate and justified. The Vergara decision may release a wave of frustration and impatience. More to the point, new and well-qualified beginning teachers should not be attracted to the work of teaching because of the promise of union-protected employment. There are better reasons.

The MTA may come to regret this election. Barbara Madeloni wants to “reclaim the conversation” about public education. What does that mean? It means she recognizes that the unions are fighting a rearguard action with only a clutch of rusty 60s-era slogans and a few slings and arrows of adolescent OWS envy. Cognitive dissonance is her vision. This will win the MTA few new friends on Beacon Hill, and will probably cost them some old ones. But hey, that’s our democratic project.

For the curious: according to the MTA’s 2011 IRS Form 990, former president Paul Toner made $129,522 plus $9,260 in deferred taxable income. On that basis the new president will probably be getting around $150K per annum, minimum.


Gender Blender

Friday 20 June 2014

In which the Idiot and the Fool discourse upon our sexual confusion of late.

The Fool on the Hill came down to the Village green the other day. Many a merry flagon did we crack in our college days, the Fool and I. But nobody wants to know him, they can see that he’s just a fool. Anyway, there I was on my usual bench, reading an old issue of Time magazine I got from the trash. The cover photo was of a statuesque black woman, one Laverne Cox by name. The caption alerted readers to a “transgender tipping point,” which it called “America’s Next Civil Rights Frontier.” I had not heard of Ms Cox before. She seems to be a personality of the televised kind and rather nice.  But her present popularity appears to be due chiefly to the fact that she was born a boy and has assumed the persona of a woman. I was baffled. How peropportune, therefore, that the Fool came by just then. He was an anthropology and sociology major back in the day and still keeps current with such developments.

“Fool,” said I, pointing to the Time cover, “can you explain this to me?”

“Idiot,” quoth he, “don’t you remember Christine Jorgensen, back in the 50s, 60s?”

“Oh yeah,” I replied. “The GI who went to Denmark for surgery to make him seem female in certain genital respects. Then he married a guy, right?”

“Well, it’s the same with this Laverne Cox. As a boy, he always felt like a girl, so he had some accommodations made and here she is, a Time icon. She’s dating a guy now. And you know about that dude in Massachusetts, what’s his name, Kosilek, who strangled his wife when she caught him wearing her dress? Now he’s in prison demanding the state pay for the same kind of surgery, and a judge has decided that was okay. After the operation he’s gonna go to a women’s prison. That’ll be interesting. Same situation with that Army leaker Brad-, er, Chelsea Manning. Curious last name, in the circumstances. Kinda like ‘Cox.’ Just sayin’.”

“Haw haw. So, Fool, are these guys just transvestites, like Sissy back in Wyoming or like the lumberjack in Monty Python? Or is there more to it?”

“You’re confused, my friend. Sissy’s a married guy with grown kids and does guy stuff. He just likes women’s clothes. Those other people are, like, girls born in guy bodies, so they say, and dress accordingly. And by the way, it goes vice versa too.”

“Hmmm. We’ll get back to that. So transvestites aren’t homosexuals, then?”

“Not necessarily, but it’s complicated. You saw Rocky Horror Picture Show, right? Remember Frank N. Furter, the sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania? He didn’t have any operation but he went both ways somehow, sexually speaking. Or how about that androgyne in The Crying Game, Jaye Edgar Hoover, whatever? Dressed and acted like a girl but liked guys?”

Jaye Davidson, Fool. Hoover was the G-Man with the tommy gun. And come to think of it, they say Hoover was a bit of the same — in private. Awkward. Okay, so, if you are a guy but feel and dress like a girl and are attracted to guys, does that make you a transvestite gay? Or are you then heterosexual?”

“This is what comes from reading too much Aristotle back in school, Idiot; you’re hung up on categories and hierarchies. Don’t you recall Prof. Von Drake‘s lecture on the berdaches, like Little Horse in Little Big Man? They call them ‘two-spirit’ now, though I’ve always liked the term ‘liminal.’ Things are more complicated now. You’ve seen Facebook’s new list of fifty — and growing — customized sexual identities, haven’t you?”

“I don’t do Facebook.”

“Yeah, I know, but you are aware that there is this social medium on the Internet called Facebook, and that people use this medium to make virtual friendships with other people, some of whom they only know via Facebook, right?”

“Okay, fine. So what’s with the identities?”

“Well, to advertise yourself and to look for people you might have things in common with, you give certain information about who you are. And since sex and gender are basic to who we are, and since the binary choices ‘man’ and ‘woman’ don’t really express all the nuance of people like Laverne Cox, some people at Facebook put up this list of fine-tuned options so that people could advertise themselves more accurately and not be limited at the male-female node. It breaks down like this: “sex” is your set of physical characteristics; your “gender” is who or what you yourself feel that you are and how you dress and act; and your sexual attraction to other people is just that. I forget my statistics, but you can imagine the possible combinations. Just keep in mind, though, that somebody might find any one of these terms ‘offensive’, that being now a high crime against humanity. For example, you could describe yourself as a “BDSM male lesbian polyamorist.”

“I don’t even wanna know. Reminds me of What’s My Perversion? But why stop at 50-some? I mean, in theory, every individual could have his/her/its own self-defined custom gender/sexuality/attraction, correct? Talk about categories. And what’s the point, anyway? It doesn’t help us make sense of anything, just seems needlessly and endlessly confusing.”

“That is the point, Idiot, definitional destruction, leading to the obliteration of gender as a viable concept or meaningful term. It’s similar to what’s happening with altered definitions of marriage, the object being to define marriage out of use, except maybe as metaphor.”

“Fool, I still don’t get it. Say a male person feels that he’s a woman, gets the operations, injections, whatever. Now say there’s a female person who feels that she’s a man, and does the same on her side. Okay, so these two people meet and are attracted to each other and commingle. Are they a heterosexual couple? How can any of this turn out well?”

“We are living, my boon companion, in the Age of the Outcast Hero, when honor, esteem, and value flow not to the normal — which is now a Very Bad Word, by the way –, not to the successful or the prosperous, but to the marginal, the oppressed, the frail and the damaged. These special terms admit such a person to the status of disadvantage and entitle them to vindication. In their view all definitions of society and of social relationships must oppress someone at all times. Maybe another manifestation of Lenin‘s ‘kto kogo’, I don’t know. All this sexual expressionism seems to be weaponry in a social revolution. Laverne Cox et al. are now leading the charge on this ‘civil rights frontier’ you’ve been reading about.”

“Sort of like Stan the insurrectionist in The Life of Brian, the guy who wants to become a woman named Loretta and have babies? Francis said that this was symbolic of their group’s struggle against oppression and the leader Reg said it was ‘symbolic of his struggle against reality’. That was good.”

“Well, now you’re being judgmental, Idiot, and that is no longer permissible. See, when you make judgments, you are appealing to a set of norms and assuming that everyone else adheres to those norms. But as I just said, all norms are part of a system of oppression since they were established by oppressors to maintain their power and status. Norms can’t help but marginalize someone. Therefore to judge is to oppress. So watch yourself, buddy.”

“Wow. I always thought that a system of norms and, yes, judgment was a de facto definition of society, since we can’t get along without them. So these people really want to destroy society itself? Are they anarchists, really?”

“Maybe. I think they believe that anarchy is preferable to society. Like the Cyclopes, they want to live entirely individually, without society, laws or customs.”

“If that’s what they really want, I’m worried. Out of every anarchic state arises a tyrant. You know that as well as I do.”

“I do indeed, my friend. But now I see the sun going down. Time to get back up the Hill. To be continued.”

“To be continued, my good friend, and thank you for your insight.”

As the Fool left the Village green, I lay down on my bench and pondered these dark mysteries.




Reader discretion is advised.

Friday 13 June 2014

Puzzled reader I. P. Freely has asked the Viliage Idiot to explain these so-called “trigger warnings” that seem to be showing up everywhere of late. Did something happen with Roy Rogers’ steed? he asks. Or is it some new concealed carry restriction? To the best of his limited abilities, the Idiot herein responds.

Well, Mr Freely, you have no doubt also observed a parallel phenomenon: the allergy alarums now ubiquitous everywhere that food is bought, sold, or served. The formula is “Please alert your waiter/a member of our staff if you or anyone in your party has a food allergy.” How so many among us have suddenly become mortally allergic to just about everything comestible is a mystery that must await its own solution. But I think you can easily guess that the purpose of such advertisements is to be legally prophylactic in the case of a lawsuit: “We warned you!”

And it seems we are becoming even more allergic to words (spoken or written) and to images (still or moving) that have unpleasant effects on our emotions. There is a quasi-medical basis to this, it appears. In psychology a “trigger” is any action or sensation that can awaken a painful memory of some trauma such as war, rape, or abuse. It seems part of the Post Traumatic Stress condition. Like the allergy notices, a trigger warning’s purpose is to prevent an undesirable reaction to something heard, read, or viewed. But since these triggers could be infinite in number and variety, due to the infinite variety of human experience, it is manifestly unfeasible to warn everyone of every possible instance. It is also absurd, since a warning itself could just as well trigger an unhappy memory as any material content.

Such practical considerations have not troubled the righteous gang of the hypersensitive, who follow a victimist path of reasoning to claim the status of “disability.” Of course, since Bush ’41 signed the Americans With Disabilities Act (1990), that term has suffered definitional metastasis. Once the manifold unhappinesses of life are officially classified as disadvantages, there will be no end of rent-seeking demands for rights and privileges and beneficent state involvement in the lives of citizens. And, as with allergies, this will be a growth area for attorneys.

The trigger warnings you’ve been reading about of late, I. P., are monitory prefaces to syllabuses for college courses. Reading and discussing the Iliad, for example, could awaken painful memories of battle among students who are combat veterans. The Merchant of Venice contains anti-Semitic language, and so on. Students of a more delicate nature are driving this innovation forward. They imagine themselves champions of the disabled, marginalized, oppressed and victimized. Indeed, there is a whole Tumblr “community” of such persons at the charmingly-named site “Fuck Yeah, Trigger Warnings.” Some professors, especially those of the feminist/queer camp, find this wholly appropriate, while others are anxious about possible limitations on course expectations and free speech.

A healthy (in the Idiot’s view) satire has also begun. My good friends at the National Association of Scholars, for example, have set up a contest for the most humorous trigger warnings to classic literature and film. But will this ridicule be enough to halt the movement’s progress? One certainly hopes so. But two forces are poised to take maximum advantage of the trend: the spokespersons of political correctness, and Islamofascists, both of whom have common tyrannical inclinations.

For it is a very short step from alerting students to upcoming scenes of the violence and cruelty of which humankind is so capable to proactively banning any topic that might offend the sensibilities of a tender few. We are talking here not of the truly offensive but of Things One Does Not Like. Indeed, in our culture of comfort, the belief is now widespread among high school and college students that one has a legal right not to be offended by others, even if the offending party has been dead for centuries. This puts quite a veto power in the hands of the emotionally anointed.

Islamofascists will be delighted by this opportunity to forbid any uncomplimentary references to the Religion of Peace and its Prophet, of course. Their modus operandi is well-known by now. Professors who make such a mistake as to assign The Satanic Verses, say, or teach the history of Islam or of Israeli-Palestinian conflict according to actual known facts, will soon find themselves accused of “hate speech” and named as tortfeasors and made the objects of vexatious litigation.

That’s as much as the Idiot has to say for the moment, Mr Freely, but who knows where this might go?  Thank you for writing, and, as always, I certainly hope I have caused no offense.


Moderate and Radical

Monday 2 June 2014

Yesterday’s New York Times ran a N. Y./Region piece by Sharon Otterman on the National September 11 Memorial Museum.  The article concerns various discontents with how Al Qaeda and terrorism are represented in a short film documentary there. The chief complaint of visitors, reports the Times, is that there is insufficient distinction made in the film and Museum between Islam and jihadist violence. “Most worrisome, some said they thought a Muslim might feel uncomfortable visiting.” A couple visiting from Australia “worried” that “Muslims would not feel welcome.” Of course, emotional comfort is now our highest criterion in so many areas of public life.

On a different angle, an inter-faith panel, brought together by the good Mr Peter B. Gudaitis, holds that using such epithets as “Islamist” and “jihadists” actually plays to the advantage of our bandana-wrapped AK-47-toting suicidal maniac friends. It “could lead people to believe that the group’s violent, radical beliefs were indicative of the wider religion.” Mr Gudaitis prefers the phrase “Muslim extremists.” Says Mr Adrian Cabreros of San Francisco, “[The Museum’s presentation] kind of gives Islam a bad vibe.” Indeed. As do other facts.

Mr Ron Speedbey, a retired NYC cop from Queens, and his friend Mr Ben Schwecke, a New York disabled veteran, felt that “[t]he exhibits they did see ‘did not really make clear that this is a fringe organization that really has corrupted much of the Quran.” Mr Schwecke made the helpful suggestion “that the museum should find a local imam and let him do a brief film for the museum ‘about this is who Muslims really are.'”

On the other hand, Ms Debra Burlingame, whose brother was a pilot murdered in those attacks, and who is on the Museum board and “helped design museum programming even though she holds controversial views about Islam,” has a somewhat different perspective. She feels quite strongly that Islam is a transnational threat and that our government is putting us all at risk by playing nicey-nice with Islam. When Megyn Kelly of Fox News proposed to Ms Burlingame that her opinions might cause her to be considered an “Islamophobe,” Ms Burlingame accepted the epithet: “‘I am hard pressed to deny it,’ she responded. ‘There’s no such thing as an irrational fear of Islam or Muslims when we know that virtually 80 percent of terror attacks in the world are committed by radical Muslims.’” (I concur, though her usage is unclear. The -phobe suffix usually does indicate a psychologically morbid fear, if not an irrational one.)

For thoughts and words such as these, Ms Burlingame does not merit the approval of one Richard Idriss, an Arab-American debate coach from Berkeley. He seems fond of cats, which I do approve. Anyway, Mr Idriss seems to be an adherent of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, those fine folks who recently got Ayaan Hirsi Ali disinvited from a commencement speech at Brandeis. And he uses their favorite “debate” strategies: claim that the crime of disagreement is “hate speech” and get it banned via petitions and lawsuits. He has a petition going to remove Ms Burlingame from her position on the Museum board. This, therefore, is “moderate” Islam for you: Shut Up, Infidel!

Just one question: in the absence of a “moderate” Islam, would radical, violent Islamism exist in the first place, or continue to exist, spread, and thrive in the second? As good debate coaches know, that’s a rhetorical question. We will all be better off to share Ms Burlingame’s justified and cautious skepticism rational fear, and the 9/11 Memorial should remind us all of the continuing need to do so.