Long vacations: one reason teaching isn’t so bad

JISHOU, HUNAN — Non-teachers envy us our long vacations. So what if teachers often end up working through their vacations doing school stuff or summer jobs? At least those vacas are built into our employment package. America, in general, does not guarantee workers vacation time, however. Among the developed countries of the world, the USA is the only one that does not require paid vacation by law. Take a look at this chart from The Washington Post. As The WaPo points out, in practice, American workers in the upper income brackets do get paid vacations and holidays as one of their benefits. It’s the poor slobs working minimum-wage jobs at Wal-Mart and fast food joints that get the short end of the stick. Unless they work someplace besides the USA.

Didn’t young Thomas Edison almost blow up a train?

JISHOU, HUNAN — Sometimes lab accidents have advantages. A Florida high school student expelled for creating an explosion at her school has received a scholarship to attend US Space Academy this summer. Her twin sister got one, too. Their benefactor is former astronaut trainer Homer Hickham, who knows what it’s like to get into trouble with the law. Back in the 1950s, he and a buddy were arrested on suspicions they started a forest fire near their high school. Hickham was cleared. So was his modern day counterpart, Kiera Wilmot, who nonetheless remains expelled because of her school’s zero-tolerance for … blowing up things. She wrote a blog abut it, which was reprinted at the ACLU website and The Huffington Post. The details about their scholarship to space camp are over at ABC News. Edison was never charged, as far as I know. But I think he did lose his job on the railroad, according to legend, after he cooked up some nitroglycerine and nearly blew himself and the train to kingdom come.

All hat, no cattle

JISHOU, HUNAN — I’m referring to Michelle Rhee, who has turned a short time as a classroom teacher and head of the Washington, DC, schools into a full-fledged career as One Who Has All the Answers to “save” America’s public schools. I remain unimpressed, given that she has few concrete accomplishments to support her claims, thus the headline here. Rhee is the subject of a short article in the Washington Monthly, and her new book, Radical, is the subject of a longer critical review in The New Republic by Nicholas Lemann, dean of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Lemann’s review is worth the read, especially if you think Rhee is the Queen Bee of school reform. Rhee has a single-minded approach to school reform, one that is fervently anti-union and test-oriented, but which ignores other factors that are related to student (and teacher) performance. StudentsFirst [Rhee’s latest school reform project] represents the next step in the journey Rhee has been taking all along. All policy and no operations, it frames education reform exclusively in anti-union terms, and ramps up the rhetoric even higher than it was during Rhee’s chancellorship in Washington. (“No more mediocrity. It’s killing us.”) Rhee actually ...

China’s professors cautioned against taboo topics

JISHOU, HUNAN — Beijing’s new leadership has not wasted any time in keeping China’s academics on a short leash. There is now a list of seven forbidden topics for the classroom. They include mistakes made by the Communist Party, freedom of the press and universal rights, according to the South China Morning Post of Hong Kong.(link) I haven’t about it personally yet. It seems to be targeted at outspoken Chinese profs.

World’s tallest (sustainable) building to be built in Changsha 1

JISHOU, HUNAN — From the Shanghaiist, developers have been given a go-ahead to build a 2,749-foot, 202-story building in Changsha, the provincial capital of Hunan. It will then be just a wee bit taller than the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, making the Changsha project, Sky City, the world’s tallest building. Once it’s completed, China will have two skyscrapers (or four, if you include Hong Kong and Taiwan as most mainlanders might) among the top ten tallest buildings. Changsha has no buildings that come even close to this height, so Sky City will certainly, um, stand out from the crowd. That part of Hunan is also relatively flat, so Sky City will be visible for miles around. (Frankly, I am surprised Beijing is letting Changsha go ahead with this project. I’d have assumed the powers-that-be would prefer a showcase skyscraper like this one be in a major metropolis like Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing or Guangzhou.) More details are at Treehugger.com. The builder is Broad Sustainable Construction, a Chinese firm which specializes in prefab construction. BSC claims they will be able to finish Sky City in seventh months, and that the “vertical city” of 30,000 residents will more environmentally friendly than China’s usual ...

American visitors, part 1

JISHOU, HUNAN — I haven’t done much blogging lately, despite having a lot to blog about, what with my daughter’s boffo wedding and some nice traveling afterward. I was just too busy, or too tired. Even this post is a bit of a cop-out, since it features a video. Last week, a group of professors and students from Wayne State College (Nebraska) came for a visit, as part of a two-week tour of China. Among them were Max and Karen, who had taught her two years ago. The university invited the visitors to a demonstration of classical Chinese arts, and I took video of each performance. Depending on how good my connection to YouTube is, I intend to showcase what we saw here. This first one is a performance of Miao drumming. The Miao are a minority group in this part of China. Then comes a bamboo dance, which is common around Asia. The performers are students from the Music and Dance College.

So, you think your trip to school was hard?

So, you think your trip to school was hard?
JISHOU, HUNAN — In Sangzi, Loudi, Hunan, which is a few hours from here by bus, children have to climb ladders up the side of a mountain to get to school. Watch this video, courtesy of The Guardian and Reuters. Hunan is a mountainous province, so we’re used to climbing hills, but the last time I took a trip like that was visiting a park in Zhangjiajie. Those ladders were metal, had safety cages around them and the angle was less steep. These kids are negotiating 70-meter (229-foot) vertical drops in some places. I can only imagine what they’ll tell their grandkids: “You think you have it rough? When I was a boy, I had to climb up ladders 300 meters to get to school — coming and going!” I’m including a screencap from Google Maps to show where Sangzi lies in relation to Jishou. Jishou is on the left (west) and the red pin is Sangzi village. If you want the satellite view, enter “Sangzi, Loudi, Hunan, China” in Google Maps. And no, I haven’t been there. Yet, anyway.

Panoramic, high-res view of Mars by Curiosity rover

Mars Gigapixel Panorama - Curiosity rover: Martian solar days 136-149 in Out of this World Andrew Bodrov has taken 407 high-res photographs taken by the Curiosity rover to create this 360-degree panorama of the Martian surface. You can use your mouse or the cursor arrows to pan and zoom.

Now, that’s planning ahead! 2

JISHOU, HUNAN — Well-to-do Chinese love to dote on their “little emperors and empresses,” but one Chinese mother has raised the bar by purchasing a $6.5 million Manhattan condo for her daughter to live in while she is in college. Her daughter is two years old. Apparently, this doting mother expects her darling to attend Columbia, NYU or Harvard, according to news reports. (Mom needs to brush up on American geography, I suspect.) The property in question hasn’t even been built yet. According to CBS News, it’s the proposed One57 project, a rectangular glass-and-steel monolith overlooking Central Park south.

Springtime in Jishou 1

Springtime in Jishou
JISHOU, HUNAN — Just some pretty pictures I took with my mobile phone while walking around this week.

South African diplomat represents a little too much, recalled from Shanghai 4

JISHOU, HUNAN — Chinese people already have a pretty poor opinion of Africans, and South Africa’s consul-general to China has not helped matters. Lassy Chiwayo (at left, with his partner) was allegedly caught three months ago wandering naked near his home in Shanghai. Chiwayo also allegedly assaulted the South African ambassador to China, Bheki Langa, at a Beijing function. So, according to news sources in China and South Africa, he’s been ordered home (some say deported, but it’s not clear) and relieved of his duties. The official word is that he’s experiencing medical problems that have caused his erratic behavior. Chiwayo denies he’s done anything wrong, and insists he is still consul-general to China, although he is now in Pretoria. And the only reason I am blogging this tidbit is that I get to mention China and South Africa, where I have both lived, in the same post.

Textbook publisher Wiley & Sons loses Supreme Court copyright case

JISHOU, HUNAN — Selling textbooks printed abroad in the USA does not infringe the copyright of the books’ publisher, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday in a 6-3 decision. The decision means a Thai entrepreneur can legally resell textbooks in the States. The adversaries in this case were John Wiley & Sons, which publishes the text I used for AP Physics for many years, among others, and Supap Kirtsaeng, a Thai student who found a clever way to make money. He bought Wiley’s texts legally in Thailand, where the prices are lower than in the States, and then resold them (legally) in the USA for a tidy profit, while still undercutting Wiley’s American retail prices. (Which is not hard, considering how high those prices are, especially for science, technology, engineering and math — STEM — texts. One book alone might cost $150 or more.) As you can imagine, Wiley was not pleased, and took Kirtsaeng to court, contending that he was violating its copyright by reselling books intended for Thai consumers in the USA. Two lower courts found in Wiley’s favor, but the Supreme Court overturned those decisions, finding no clear provisions in existing copyright law that would make Kirtsaeng’s enterprise ...
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