Aaron Barlow's blog

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Here We Go Again!

  • Posted on: 4 December 2010
  • By: Aaron Barlow

What's this fascination we've got with teachers? Why do we concentrate on them so much, when we talk about education, and on rating them, and so little on learning?

There's an article in today's The New York Times about claims that education will actually get better if we have more evaluation of teachers. That, by itself, is as silly as the now-discredited claim behind No Child Life Behind that more standardized testing will improve schools.

But that's where we're heading:

Death to Teachers!

  • Posted on: 2 December 2010
  • By: Aaron Barlow

The other day, I came across this:

School teachers.... will, in the long run, probably be made obsolete by television, as blacksmiths were made obsolete by the automobile.

It's from a speech by Neil Postman, author of Amusing Ourselves to Death, called “Informing Ourselves to Death,” delivered in 1990.

James O'Keefe: The Downside of Citizen Journalism

  • Posted on: 26 October 2010
  • By: Aaron Barlow

The thing about citizen journalism is not that one has to be impartial or "objective" to provide valuable news service to one's fellow humans, but that one is part of a community the story concerns. Unfortunately, there are people who have taken the concept and bent it to their own ends. These tend to be political zealots without backgrounds in journalism who try to make "citizen journalism" a cover for what is really simply work by amateurs trying to score political points.

Among such people is James O'Keefe, a 26-year-old political ambush specialist masquerading as a citizen journalist. His latest offering is a highly edited (as usual) video from what appears to be a bar where attendees at a New Jersey teachers' union conference are relaxing.

Education: The Circle Game

  • Posted on: 16 October 2010
  • By: Aaron Barlow

Writing more than fifty years ago, the historian and cultural critic Jacques Barzun commented upon the multiple-choice test:

Taking an objective test is simply pointing. It calls for the least effort of mind above that of keeping awake: recognition. And it is recognition without a shock, for to a veteran of twelve years old, the traditional four choices of each question fall into a soothing rhythm. No tumult of surprise followed by a rallying generalship and concentration, as in facing an essay question; no fresh unfolding of the subject under unexpected demand, but the routine sorting out of the absurd from the trivial, or the completing of dull sentences by word- or thought-cliches. No other single practice explains as fully the intellectual defects of our student up to and through graduate school than their ingrained association of knowledge and thought with the scratching down of check marks on dotted lines.

An Open-Minded 'Bagger?

  • Posted on: 3 October 2010
  • By: Aaron Barlow

The other day, I invited someone to be friends on Facebook--we have a huge number of mutual friends, so it seemed the thing to do. I got back this message:

You ask me to friend you but you list yourself as "Very Liberal." No way dude. You are brainwashed to say and think wrong things. When you become an independent thinker, try me again.

What's the Matter with Us?

  • Posted on: 26 September 2010
  • By: Aaron Barlow

One of the things that has always perplexed me are the photos and other descriptions of white supremacists. Heck, or pictures of racists or jingoists of any stripe. Or of Tea-Party supporters, for that matter. And that is simple this: They don't look like they have much to be proud of... by themselves.

Mourning Becomes Election

  • Posted on: 23 September 2010
  • By: Aaron Barlow

Voting has to be voluntary. Forced participation reflects, even less than low turnout, little of what 'the people' want. So, people have to be attracted to the polls. Certainly, if there is going to be any sense at all of real democratic participation.

Thing is, people can be attracted to the polls for the wrong reasons. The unscrupulous can game the system, whipping up fervor and getting people to vote--even against their own interests.

The scrupulous, on the other hand, try to convince. They don't try to scare or to appeal to the base parts of human character.

Efficient Stoves: Can They Be Effective As Well?

  • Posted on: 21 September 2010
  • By: Aaron Barlow

The picture accompanying John M Broder's New York Times story on the new project to provide millions of clean-burning stoves to developing countries? It shows part of why this well-meant project may just fail.  It shows an old-style stove (essentially three stones surrounding a fire) in a courtyard in India.  Burning brightly, the stove wastes energy, produces soot, and eats much more wood than necessary.  Burning brightly, though, it also provides evening light for the compound--which probably lacks electricity or the money to buy and provide fuel for kerosene lanterns.

That 'Anti-Colonial Luo Tribesman'

  • Posted on: 20 September 2010
  • By: Aaron Barlow

And, no, I don't mean Obama, though Newt Gingrich (channeling Dinesh D'Sousa and his Forbes piece) has called him that, I mean a real Luo--and one of the people with great influence upon me as I was growing up.

His name was Alphonse O'Kuku. I first met him in 1963, and last saw him in 1990, not too many years before he died.

A Little Dabble Do Ya

  • Posted on: 19 September 2010
  • By: Aaron Barlow

What does "dabble" mean, anyway? To splash a bit, or spatter... to lightly examine. I once dabbled with the idea of becoming a lawyer. Lasted a day or so. A decade ago, Christine O'Donnell, the tea-partier Republican nominee for Senate in Delaware, claimed to have dabbled in witchcraft. What do you suppose that means?

O'Donnell claimed:

One of my first dates with a witch was on a satanic altar, and I didn’t know it. I mean, there’s little blood there and stuff like that. We went to a movie and then had a midnight picnic on a satanic alter.

You made love on an altar with blood on it?  Oh, sorry... I forgot.  You don't do that kind of thing.  Maybe there was a little kissing, though?

Maybe that blood had been dabbled on the altar, or the 'stuff like that' (whatever that means) was.  Maybe your date was dabbling with you... or fooling you.

I don't know.  And it doesn't seem that you do, either, O'Donnell. 

The Fine Art of Self-Serving Prediction

  • Posted on: 17 September 2010
  • By: Aaron Barlow

In his column today, David Brooks picks and chooses among polls and observations to come to the conclusion that the tea party isn't a problem for the Republicans.  Conveniently ignoring things like the debacle (in the eyes of moderate Republicans) of Christine O'Donnell (though I would not count her out--but for other reasons), Brooks argues that the 'baggers aren't hurting the Republicans at all.  Instead, he says, the election is all about the Democrats:

It's Happening Here

  • Posted on: 15 September 2010
  • By: Aaron Barlow

If you still don't believe that the tea party has the potential of completely upsetting our American apple cart, you probably also think this new 'internet' thing is only a passing fad. Yes, it is true that the 'baggers have reduced the pressure on Democrats, who are now a little less likely to lose control of Congress, but this is no time to relax. The 'baggers have shown that they can win--and win against long odds. That could still happen in November.

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