Winter holiday is here, and I’m in Japan! 4

Winter holiday is here, and I'm in Japan!
TOKYO, JAPAN — This year’s winter escapade is not to a warm, sunny location like Malaysia, but to the more wintry Japan — a joint effort by my son and me. He had some comp time available, and wanted to visit me in Jishou, but as I had planned to travel outside China during the Spring Festival, we settled on two weeks in Japan. Fun fact: this year, the Chinese New Year falls on my birthday. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which day that is. I gave my exams on Dec. 30, and spent the rest of the week reading them and calculating grades for my 150 students. I discovered two disturbing things: at least two of my sophomores had cheated on their exam and hardly any of the sophs had improved their listening comprehension marks over the last three terms. The cheaters flunked their exams, and the term. They will need to take a new test next term. I also get to read their classmates the riot act, as I suspect those two were just the unlucky ones who got caught. The sophomores’ failure to improve their skills much since they were freshmen is a bigger ...

DC high school group meets donations goal for August Cuba trip

DC high school group meets donations goal for August Cuba trip
A student group at Anacostia High School in Washington, DC, has exceeded its fundraising goal and is now ready to take a nine-day trip to Cuba next month. Following a urgent e-mail appeal from blogger “Nomadic” Matt Kepnes, the group’s CrowdRise campaign garnered $12,000 within a four-hour period, and reached its $35,000 goal by midday today. As of this writing, $38,442 had been raised for the students of Spanish teacher Kathrine Avila to visit Cuba. Kepnes said in his follow-up email that the excess funds will be saved for another school trip in the spring. Kepnes, who blogs at, founded The Foundation for Learning and Youth Travel Education (FLYTE) in 2015 to enable students and teachers from low income areas to take trips abroad. The Anacostia High School Cuba trip is the second to be funded. Last year, a group of students from the B.E.S.T. Academy in Atlanta, Georgia visited Mexico. Applications for the spring trip will be available at the FLYTE website late next month.

UPDATED: DC school group needs $14,000 $6,000 more for Cuba trip

UPDATED: DC school group needs <del>$14,000</del> $6,000 more for Cuba trip
JISHOU, HUNAN — Students from a Washington, DC, high school plan to visit Cuba next month, but they still need another $14,000 $6,000 to make it possible. I’m hoping my readers can help them out. Although the students and teachers have received financial and logistical help from the Foundation for Learning and Youth Travel Education (FLYTE) for their first ever trip abroad, their CrowdRise fundraising drive is nearing its Aug. 6 deadline with $29,682 raised for a $35,000 goal. Most of the students at Anacostia High School in southeast DC are from low income families, and without financial assistance, it would be unlikely they could attempt such a journey. FLYTE was founded by travel blogger “Nomadic” Matt Kepnes specifically to assist students in rural and low income areas to benefit from travel abroad. In her application, their Spanish teacher stressed the learning goals for the trip. “In the area in which I teach, most students’ personal goals are limited to a range of about five years. As a result of their circumstances, most students are not exposed to the possibilities outside their immediate surroundings. The main focus for students at Anacostia is to graduate, as the rate of graduation lingered ...

Anonymous 3rd grade pizza math question drives Internet crazy

Anonymous 3rd grade pizza math question drives Internet crazy
JISHOU, HUNAN — It seems every few months or so the Internet is in turmoil about some silly “controversy” or another. The latest is the “Marty and Luis” pizza question. An image of the question, supposedly marked in green by a teacher, ended up on reddit two months ago, apparently as a criticism of American education, or teachers, or math. Who knows? Well, I’m a skeptic, so I went digging around the Internet trying to find the origin of the question and the image. The source of the question was easy to find: Pearson Education’s EnVision math series for 3rd Grade Common Core. The source of the image was a different matter. Using, I used the image as a search parameter. It’s earliest appearance was, oddly enough, on a German image collection site,, and it was posted there in March 2015! The account of the original poster, gelöscht-20111221-112645, has since been locked, and his new account, gelöscht-20120516-162657, is not visible to the public, though the images are searchable. Go figure. After this mysterious German appearance, the same image ended up on about a week later, where it began to attract the usual assortment of comments, ranging from ...

BBC photo-essay captures the changes in my area of China

BBC photo-essay captures the changes in my area of China
JISHOU, HUNAN — The BBC Magazine today has an excellent photo-essay describing how the urbanization of China has affected one family profoundly. Although the farming village in question is not in Hunan, it’s not very far from where I live, about 350 km as the crow flies. (See map, above. I’ve circled major cities and the Three Gorges Dam to help in reading this map.) Much of what BBC reporter Carrie Gracie says has happened to the family of Xiao Zhang has happened to countless families all across China. I teach some of their children here at Jishou University, students who in many cases are the first in their village to attend university, whose grandparents are barely literate, and whose parents left the village to work in the big cities. To cope with the hundreds of millions of rural people flooding into the big cities to find work, China’s has undertaken huge modernization projects — wiping out entire rural villages and building small cities on top of them. From one perspective, it’s a terrible loss of an age-old way of life. The villagers really did not have much choice in the matter, as previous BBC reports detailed. But from ...

After more than a decade, we meet again … in China

After more than a decade, we meet again ... in China
CHANGSHA, HUNAN — Maybe some Cold Spring Harbor High School alums — and maybe a few Princeton ones, too — will recognize the man on the left. He’s Bill Shain, who taught American history at CSHHS in the 1970s, then went on to serve in the Princeton admissions office. And he was in Changsha (of all places) last month, as part of a whirlwind professional gig touring China. We met there, and were joined by one of my own students, Helen Xiao, who is a graduate student in Changsha, for dinner and drinks on a Sunday evening. Student, teacher and teacher’s teacher. Rather poetic, no? Bill was in China last year, traveling with representatives of the Kitebridge program, but our mutual schedules did not allow a rendezvous. This time, they passed through Changsha, which is just five hours from Jishou. So, I asked for leave from my Monday classes and took the bus there on a Sunday morning. Kitebridge arranges for Chinese junior high school students to attend one of several American private high schools. Bill consults with schools and such on the American college admissions process, so Kitebridge retained him as an expert. He says his role in China ...

This week in America’s drive for excellence: Oklahoma to defund AP US History

This week in America's drive for excellence: Oklahoma to defund AP US History
Once again, the College Board AP program is under attack, this time in Oklahoma. Legislators there think the AP US History program is just like the Common Core — a pernicious influence on tender young American minds who will not learn that America is The Greatest Nation of All Time. So, state Rep. Dan Fisher (R-Nutjob) wants to defund the AP US History program. It’s another great step in making American exceptional, but in the wrong way. The Tulsa World has this report of a committee hearing about education funding: During discussion and debate, however, it was suggested that AP courses are similar to Common Core, in that they could be construed as an attempt to impose a national curriculum on American schools. It was also suggested that AP courses violate the legislation approved last year that repealed Common Core, with state Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, saying she has asked the state Attorney General’s Office for a ruling on the matter. That legislation gives sole control of curriculum and assessment to the state, although it was not immediately clear whether the requirement applies to all courses or only to required courses. Last year, conservative educators in Colorado also attacked ...

And in other news

I’ve contributed a few pieces to a new website called If You Only News, on the invitation of a former student working there. This one is about the Gilbert, AZ, school board who cut out pages referring to contraception from a honors biology textbook. If you go here and read it, my page hits go up and so does my pay. Thanks very much. The rest of the site is not bad, either.

The many roles of a teacher

This is the quote I was seeking from my Facebook friends several weeks ago. Turns out I had it on my computer all along. In the high school classroom you are a drill sergeant, a rabbi, a shoulder to cry on, a disciplinarian, a singer, a low-level scholar, a clerk, a referee, a clown, a counselor, a dress-code enforcer, a conductor, an apologist, a philosopher, a collaborator, a tap dancer, a politician, a therapist, a fool, a traffic cop, a priest, a mother-father-brother-sister-uncle-aunt, a bookkeeper, a critic, a psychologist, the last straw. — Frank McCourt, Teacher Man: A Memoir, Scribner, 2006 Frank McCourt is the author of Angela’s Ashes, among other books. He taught high school English for 30 years in the New York City public schools before becoming a writer. Teacher Man is a memoir of his teaching career. Here’s the squib about him from Frank McCourt (1930-2009) was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Irish immigrant parents, grew up in Limerick, Ireland, and returned to America in 1949. For thirty years he taught in New York City high schools. His first book, “Angela’s Ashes,” won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the L.A. ...

Supreme Court sticks fork in John Freshwater dismissal case

JISHOU, HUNAN — Seven years! This case has been dragging on for seven years, and now maybe we will never need to read about John Freshwater in the news again. His last chance to have the courts reinstate him as a science teacher in Ohio ended in defeat this week. The US Supreme Court has let stand a lower court decision that Freshwater’s former employers, the Mount Vernon, Ohio, school district, had cause to fire him for insubordination for refusing to remove religious materials from his classroom. Freshwater’s lawyers argued that the district had infringed his First Amendment rights, and wanted to Court to hear their case. The Justices were apparently unimpressed with this argument, and denied his writ of certiorari — basically, a request that the Court hear his appeal.. Freshwater was a seventh-grade science teacher who had a few bad practices. Judging from the testimony of former students and co-workers during a lengthy administrative hearing, he had a long history of teaching Creationism in his class, leading his students to doubt the validity of evolution and the Big Bang theory, and pushing his conservative Christian faith in class. Unsaid and unexamined was the district’s seeming tolerance of this ...

Right-wing culture warriors attack new AP US History plan

JISHOU, HUNAN — America’s culture warriors have found a new battlefield: the new College Board Advanced Placement US History framework. Most of us would just yawn, and say, so the College Board revised the course, what’s the big deal? But to those people who fear any change is a threat to Life As We Know It, the new framework to AP US is a liberal, anti-American plot to indoctrinate high school students in liberal, anti-American ideas. Conservatives are so alarmed that they persuaded the Republican National Committee (RNC) to issue a resolution opposing the changes, and have also succeeded in getting Republican-controlled state assemblies to do the same thing. The wording is nearly the same in each case. Their reactionary approach to the “new” APUSH alarmed Jefferson County, Colorado, students and teachers so much that they staged a sick out late last month. National Review columnist Stanley Kurtz spent more than two-thirds of a rather breathless column tracing, a la Glenn Beck, the invidious anti-American influence of one liberal historian on the new AP US curriculum. The origins of the new AP U.S. History framework are closely tied to a movement of left-leaning historians that aims to “internationalize” the teaching ...

Dedication: man teaches solo in same rural Hunan school for 38 years

JISHOU, HUNAN — When he retires in four years, teacher Zeng Xiangwei 曾祥伟 will have spent 42 years as the only schoolteacher in rural Dao County, Yongzhou City, Hunan. He has also repaired and cleaned the school, tended the nearby rice fields, and fixed the village’s satellite TV installations. QQ News (Chinese) and (English) have photo-features about teacher Zeng, who has to retire at age 60. He hopes the county can find a replacement who can teach the village kids English and computer skills. It will be a challenge to attract suitable candidates; the remote school is 35 km from the nearest county road. Most of the children are “left behind” kids, and members of the Yao minority group. Their parents have left the village to work as migrant workers in factories and big cities, so the kids depend on grandparents and other relatives — and Zeng — to care for them. He hopes the county can build a new school, with a library, computers and an Internet connection, so that the village kids have a brighter future.
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