Working on blogging again … meanwhile, here’s a “guest blogger” 1

JISHOU, HUNAN — I’ve been very lax in writing anything lately, but I’ll get around to writing something when my muse finally stops by for a visit. My guest blogger is John Adams, who among other things was a former schoolteacher and the second President of the United States. He supported public education, which politicians of late would rather dismantle in favor of privatization and similar wrong-headed ideas. In a 1785 letter to John Jebb, Adams wrote this: The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves. (Source) A year later, Adams wrote this in a letter to Mathew Robinson, Jr. But before any great things are accomplished, a memorable change must be made in the system of Education and knowledge must become so general as to raise the lower ranks of Society nearer to the higher. The Education of a nation, instead of being confined to a few schools & Universities, for the instruction of ...

A girl at the crossroads between tradition and ambition

JISHOU, HUNAN — The term is over, and I have just finished a grueling round of reading short essays and longer research papers from 157 college juniors. This one stands out as the most poignant cause-effect essay I have ever read. It will give you a glimpse into the “other side” of China, away from all the glitz and glitter of the big cities. The author is a transfer student, who has already finished three years of junior college and is now a year short of getting her bachelors degree. (Five years altogether). JiDa in the essay refers to Jishou University (Jishou Daxue, in Chinese). I have only cleaned up her grammar and punctuation. The rest is all hers. [Cross-posted at Daily Kos] This Time, May I Have to Give Up? It is not easy for me to study in Jishou University. Even though I really want to study till my graduation, this time, it seems like that I have to give up my study. After graduating from Hunan Foreign Trade College, it is almost impossible for me to go to JiDa, because there are massive debts in my family. My entire family doesn’t agree that I should go to ...

The Florida skills exam revisited 3

The Florida skills exam revisited
JISHOU, HUNAN — A few days ago, I wrote about an Orange County, Florida, school board member who took a version of the 2010 Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) for 10th graders and did very poorly on it: he only got 62% on the reading portion and completely bombed the math section. Rick Roach, who has two master’s degrees, argues that his results suggest that the test is not really testing what students need to know and that the tests pigeonhole students unfairly. One could also argue, as a few commenters on that post have already, that Roach’s poor reading and math skills are to blame, not the FCAT. He does admit in an email to educator Marion Brady that his math skills are rusty, but I contend that Roach and his detractors are also not considering the time factor. For example, 10th graders have 70 minutes to answer 58 or so math questions, and 70 minutes to answer about 45 reading questions, from what I can gather from the 2006 exams available online.. That works out to an average time of 1:12 for each math question and 1:33 for each reading question. If any Floridians can correct my information, ...

Powers of Ten for the 21st century

JISHOU, HUNAN — In 1968 Ray Eames and her husband Charles Eames (of Eames chair fame) released a remarkable short film called Powers of Ten. You may have seen it in a science class, if you were lucky. It opens with a couple having a picnic, then zooms in with ever increasing detail to an atomic nucleus, then zooms out at high speed into outer space. Each step decreases or increases the magnification by a multiple of ten. You can watch at Vimeo. Now there’s a Shockwave version of the same idea, by Cary and Michael Huang. A slide control allows you to explore at your own pace. It takes a while to load, but it’s worth the wait. Nothing showy or (ahem) flashy, but neither was the Eames film.

Meeting the freshmen 2

JISHOU, HUNAN — The trade-off for a week-long National Holiday break this year was seven days straight of teaching, including my first meetings with the 109 freshmen who have enroled in our college. Unlike American colleges, universities usually bring in their freshmen after everyone else has arrived. At our uni, they arrive during the second week of classes, then have two weeks of military training — mostly formation drills, physical training, and practice with mercifully unloaded rifles. Then we all take off for the National Holiday. Originally, I was not scheduled to teach the freshmen, but we didn’t start the year with two foreign teachers. My dean rather timidly asked me if I would consider taking on additional classes to help the college out. I agreed to take on oral English for the frosh, which added six classes to my load. If Chinese students need any instruction, it’s in spoken English. I figured missing even a few weeks of class with a foreign teacher would hold them back even further. Besides, taking on the freshmen means, at least for this term, I will have taught every student in our college at least once. So, what is this crop of first-years ...

From What life is like for Chinese high school students

One of the staff writers at has written a poignant and illuminating essay about his experience as a high school (senior middle, in local parlance) school student. Here’s an excerpt describing the typical day in a Chinese high school. Contrast his description with life in your own high school. I have to say that high school is a monastery and an army boot camp combined. Eleven classes every day. We had to rise before dawn and went to bed after 11. After the last class, we were encouraged to use any bit of extra time for study. There was one student who would go to read his lessons every night in the toilet, because that was the only place where the light would be kept on 24 hours. Everyone hated him, because his breach of a delicate equilibrium that is vital for us to live in peace with each other — he studied just a little too hard. The school encouraged us to be frugal with our time. It had a slogan hanging from the main building: “Time is like water in sponge; if you squeeze harder, there is always more.” And contemplate this paragraph about the possible consequences ...

Food for thought

JISHOU, HUNAN — I’ve been reading a great book, Liars for Jesus, about the twisting of historical facts (and just plain lying) to support the notion that the USA was intended to be a Christian Nation. I found the following reference especially interesting, so I’m sharing it with you. First there is a quotation from a constitution (which one, I will reveal later), and an explanation by an author. The subjects are religion and public education. SEC. 4. All persons have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences. No person shall be compelled to attend, erect, or support any place of worship against his consent, and no preference shall be given by-law to any religious society, nor shall any interference with the rights of conscience be permitted. No religious test shall be required as a qualification for office, nor shall any person be incompetent to be a witness on account of his religious belief; but nothing herein shall be construed to dispense with oaths and affirmations. Religion, morality, and knowledge, however, being essential to good government, it shall be the duty of the legislature to pass suitable laws to protect ...

Why wait for Superman? 4

JISHOU, HUNAN — From my distant perch here, I’ve heard the news about the film, Waiting for Superman*, which ballyhoos the charter-school model as the solution for America’s supposedly failing public schools. Oprah, queen of fads-du-jour, had the filmmakers on her show. Bill and Melinda Gates are involved. It’s the latest “big thing” in education, which has been plagued by about a hundred “big things” in as many years, all promising to solve problem X, where stands for the Dilemma of the Moment. I haven’t seen the flick, but as they say, I’ve read the reviews. While some reviews just gush about the film, a more nuanced review is in The Nation. I encourage you to read it, as a counterpoint to the mostly mindless adulation of the film and its rather one-sided message. Today I read an article in The New York Times about a huge public high school in Boston that got results, not by adopting the education fad-du-jour, but by doing things the old-fashioned way. Instead of throwing up their hands and declaring “The public school is dead!” teachers at Brockton High School rolled up their sleeves and restructured the school’s instructional plan. Brockton was among Massachusett’s ...

And here’s something even more wrong than Rand Paul 2

JISHOU, HUNAN — I just read this at Pharyngula. Words escape me. Any of my former physics students could write a better explanation of electricity than this tripe. It’s apparently from a homeschooling science text peddled by Bob Jones University. [The link in PZ’s post seems to be broken. The page shown is from the Science 4 textbook, printed in 2004.]

When sexism can be inspirational 4

When sexism can be inspirational
JISHOU, HUNAN — Yesterday was Children’s Day in China, and in my oral English class I asked students to talk about their influential childhood memories. One girl, Sally L., had an especially moving story. Sally’s parents are farmers and have two daughters. Her uncle, meanwhile, also farms and has at least one son. She related an argument between her father, his brother and Sally’s grandfather that left a deep impression on her 7-year-old mind. Since she was so young, Sally says she can’t remember all the details of the argument, but it involved her uncle wanting some the land her father owned, but was not at the time cultivating. Her father refused to give it to his brother, and in no time at all, the four men — father, uncle, grandfather and even her male cousin — were yelling at each other and threatening to get physical. The outcome was that Sally’s parents retained possession of the land. Her uncle wanted the land because he had a son, while Sally’s dad had daughters. In rural China, boys are held in higher esteem than girls, so the uncle apparently believed keeping the land for two daughters was a complete waste of ...

I’m a pusher, according to Watchtower magazine 2

JISHOU, HUNAN — I confess. It’s time to come clean. I am a pusher. For the last 25 years, I have been encouraging young people –even my own children! The shame! — to pursue higher education. According to The Watchtower magazine, published by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, higher education is a really bad thing, like drugs, alcohol, wild parties, social networking sites, and maybe even rock & roll. Been there, done that. So I’m apparently damned to hell. Crap. Who knew? By way of Pharyngula, I saw this image scanned from The Watchtower. It’s all there. I am soooo screwed.

Shameless self-promotion 3

I am now a writer for the Teachers’ Lounge at The Daily Kos. My first Teachers’ Lounge diary went up yesterday, and was even rescued overnight! In DKos-atopia, that’s a singular honor. So, go read it.
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