Thursday, June 30, 2011

A traveling frame of mind has overtaken me, as it tends to do this time of year. Hey, between our extended families living in faraway places and Dan's need to stay in all 50 states at some point in his lifetime, we travel. And though in coming weeks, we will be headed to points west, I'm tickled by the news that a bunch of diamondback terrapins tied up JFK airport runway traffic. Although I woulda loved to have heard what the pilot had to say to his passengers on the American flight that got stuck for a bit while turtles in heat were herded off the tarmac, the closest we have to that is a listen at what air traffic controllers there had to deal with:

If those terrapins are headed for Brooklyn, I hope they avoid the heavily polluted Gowanus Canal.

Of course, Dan comes back from his latest trip to NYC with some stuff from one of his favorite bargain stores, and, for the first time, I took a good look at the shopping bag and long has Century 21 had that slogan?

See, thing is, their flagship store in lower Manhattan is right around the corner from the site of the world's most infamous terrorist attack. Are we really in Afghanistan to fight for those bargains? According to Century 21 department stores, we are.

And finally, though I will be out and about for a while, I will have something to look forward to once I return - a certain conference that's being held on August 27th at Xavier University this yearThe registration fee will be increasing to $30 tomorrow from $25, though, so it'd be best to sign up for it today, while you're reading this. Head here to sign up for Rising Tide VI at the reduced rate. I would love to see you there.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"What are you doing about it?" Dad asked when I told him about the recent Louisiana Science Education Act repeal attempts rearing up only to get smacked down. "So you think this is awful and stupid, which it is. So what are you doing about it?"

Well, yeah, I wrote about it. But I knew he wanted to know how much further it could be taken. And gosh, I would love to see it here. Get the ears and the funds of a few like-minded, moneyed influence brokers and beat the Benjamins about the heads and shoulders of those affiliated with the Louisiana Family Forum until they voted these "alternative" teachings down - a neat, short-term political gaming solution to this problem that will most likely resurface in this state because it's easier to legislate this stuff into existence than it is to, say, work on a real plan for curing what ails this state economically. Heaven forbid there should be lasting, earthly, rational change coming from the Louisiana lege that actually serves the constituents.

Recent reading has me wondering if this is in no small part dictated by a viewpoint that still endures in one form or another from down the centuries - a viewpoint that we still can't fully shake.
It was a credulous age (the early nineteenth century). One reason people were so quick to believe in the Murrell excitement was that they were eager to believe in anything, no matter how strange, as long as it was bad news. They were particularly fascinated by occult portents of doom. Everybody knew that owls and whip-poor-wills were evil omens, that a dog howling in the night meant somebody was about to die, that prudent people had to carry a tuft of wool tied with thread at all times to prevent being ridden by witches. It was a time of seances and mirror divination and spirit rapping - an era when, as Melville observed in Moby-Dick, "the rumor of a knocking in a tomb will terrify a whole city."
Having also just studied a parasha of the Torah this past weekend that once again presents the mixed multitude that came out of Egypt as being a whiny bunch ready to believe the worst, I have to contend with this aspect of human nature that also tends to nip our better inclinations in the bud. Or, if there are indeed  better inclinations, they are fairly misinformed, misdirected, and downright patronizing ones meant to impose one's will on another rather than actually seeing to what is needed.

It's kind of what burns me up about HB580, which is up for vote in the state Senate today, having already been approved by the state House. Introduced by the same legislator who was also responsible for the Louisiana Science Education Act, HB580 enables local school boards to buy textbooks not approved by the state - a bill that, if approved, can make it easier for individual parishes to introduce the "supplemental materials" in biology classes that the LSEA allows. So hey, state-sanctioned pseudo-science could have money spent on it, but the funds for, say, remediating a temporary school site while the school building itself is being worked on are supposedly not there. I foresee that, for Louisiana public education's next trick, they will solve the problem of badly needed school facilities and renovations by telling the kids to pray for them.

For now, we do have the recourse of telling the state senators not to vote for HB580. Email links and further contact info can be found here. But after that...

...where do we go from here?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Well, the parents of my son's school have kind of gotten what they wanted.  Emphasize "kind of":

After failed attempts to arrive at an acceptable mitigation plan with the LA Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ), the Orleans Parish School Board announced today that it will postpone its Audubon Charter renovation project until further notice.  
Audubon Charter was scheduled for a two-year comprehensive renovation at its Broadway school in accordance with the School Facilities Master Plan. In order to accommodate the school, the School Board had arranged for a replacement site, known as a swing site, in the Lower Garden District on the block bounded by Richard, Constance, Orange and Annunciation Streets.  
The Annunciation site was selected after an exhaustive search for space in the Uptown area. Because of soil contamination that was previously mitigated at nearby Annunciation playground, the School Board ordered soil samples as part of its due diligence. When that study indicated significant levels of lead in the soil, the Board took steps to outline a mitigation plan, developed by noted scientist, Dr. C. Paul Lo, who has experience in the area. Following a meeting of Audubon parents on May 25, concerned parents contacted LDEQ, which in turn called for meetings and communication that resulted in suspension of the project.  
School Board President Lourdes Moran said student safety is her highest priority. “Unfortunately, LDEQ’s recommendation would not allow the charter operator to meet its projected August opening. Therefore, it made the project impossible to begin at this time. The School Board will review its process for all projects scheduled for Orleans Parish. We will continue to identify a suitable location that is safe for our school children.”  

More info can be found here. The fur - and the lead - was flying over this back in late May. It was of course going to come to this, but bathrooms and facilities still in dire need of work are preferable to lead.

What I am now wondering is when nearby districts will start doing this:
From the Washington Independent:
A school board in Virginia has voted unanimously to leave No Child Left Behind, which would mean joining a bevy of other boards across the country in sending a resolution to Sec. of Education Arne Duncan asking for the request. 
The petition is a joint effort by The American Association of School Administrators and the National School Boards Association to “urge—absent Congressional reauthorization—immediate regulatory relief for the 2011-12 school year, and any efforts to rescind or modify current regulations and alleviate undue pressure on the nation’s schools.” 
The letter continues: 
We urge the Department of Education to exercise their regulatory authority to relieve school districts from the constraints of current statutes, keeping schools from being held hostage while Congress moves forward with complete reauthorization. We request that this relief be straight regulatory relief, not waivers. Schools deserve straight regulatory relief, and not the additional requirements or conditions that often come with waivers. We specifically support suspension of additional sanctions under current AYP requirements, effective for the 2011-12 school year. (Schools currently facing sanctions would remain frozen; no new schools would be labeled as ‘In Need of Improvement’ or subject to new or additional sanctions.)
Over 900 school districts have signed onto the proposal
900 is a lot. 
The joint effort by associations which represent school boards and school administrators is not insignificant. The massive number of school districts which have opted out of No Child Left Behind dwarfs the eight state level education heads whom want the strict guidelines maintained to support their own reform efforts.
It's too late for this for the New Orleans schools, I fear. We're too frazzled from trying to maintain what we already have. It's unfortunately up to all of these other drops in the bucket of NCLB mutiny to fill the bucket and douse the standardized testing that has run amuck in public education. Best we can do as parents is keep fighting it and not to let it overwhelm us and our children.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Time flies when family is concerned. It seems to do so more now than when I was a kid in my parents' house yearning to be free of the obligatory visits, the cards, the gifts, the constant remembrances that hold families together in these times when - more often than not - extended members live farther away from each other like never before.

I deeply, almost desperately wanted a sibling when I was younger, in part because most of the other kids I knew in school had one. I somehow felt I would be less alone if I had a brother, but, when telling people my mom was going to have a brother didn't seem to hurry it along, I managed to let go of the idea until I was fourteen and Mom said, "Guess what?"

My teenaged mind then rolled its eyes and thought, "Great timing."

I felt by then that I had to hold back on voicing a lot of smartassed thoughts, as my strategy until I was out of my parents' house was to keep my head down and my nose clean and then my chances of getting what I wanted would be greater. I did make it clear, however, that I wasn't going to be the default babysitter for my brother. It's a decision my parents mostly complied with, and one that I now regret that they did to a certain extent. Then again, dealing with a formerly colicky infant who was then in the midst of being potty-trained while I was looking at colleges wasn't on my list of things I thought I should be handling.

It became even clearer as the years passed that my parents were raising another only child. It wasn't just the age difference that made this so - I'd grown up in a Texas metropolis, and my brother came of age in small-town Pennsylvania due to my dad's job-related moves. I didn't really play catch with my brother until he was near the end of his high-school days. Friends of his jeered at him for telling the truth about his big sister. "Oh, yeah? A sister?? Where IS she, then?" The most I could do at this distance was chat with him occasionally across the phone lines, see him occasionally at family gatherings, listen sympathetically to Mom when she told me about one or another of his escapades, not all of them benign.

But when it came to my brother's college graduation, I knew I was going to be there, even if it involved piling into a rented Suburban with most of my extended family and heading to upstate New York to sort out hotel rooms for ten-plus. It threatened to rain the day of the ceremony, but it managed to hold off until after all the graduates had walked through the central memorial on campus, as per commencement tradition, and had their names called to accept their degrees. Journalist/anchor Judy Woodruff gave the address, correctly stating that graduates probably won't remember her or recall much of what she said - hell, my family remembers much more than I do about my college graduation (it kinda helped that this guy gave our student address).

Perhaps it was her particular perspective on my brother's generation and its challenges. Or the injections of reality into her address that told the class of 2011 they would likely fail at some points in their lives, and, in considering the current economy and job market, the class members would probably have to move back home for a while. Or it was my brother asking me about a potential job in Metairie, then dismissing it when I told him biking to work in the Causeway-Veterans Blvd. area could be a dicey proposition. Maybe it was my enjoying a beer at a bar with him for the first time...but I started to worry some about the future for my brother. I still worry about it, to a certain extent.

Having my head in the interwebs, my kid in school, and my self in a city struggling to keep its dirty existence alive and well has probably sensitized me more to the fact that, more even than demonstrable ability and undeniable skills, a certain selfish cunning, desperation, and dumb luck is needed to get by in the world today - and I don't know how well we're training these future generations in those realities. The best any of us can really hope for is that, when that learning comes, it won't crush our kids too badly. Ideals like my brother wanting to bike to work may fall, and there will be compromise. It may even eat away at many, many souls...but that is life in all its insane glory.

How well equipped are any of us for all of this, when all is said and done? We won't know until those bridges will have to be crossed somehow. What I wish for my brother is that he do all of it with style and grace and with not a little of the chutzpah in his genes. Goodness knows there's a great deal of it: I learned a few things about my dad this past weekend that make me wonder even more how he could've survived his wild days. The door's always open to him down here, no matter what he decides to do.

This little brother of mine's come a ways in his twenty-three years. Here's to the beginning of his long adult road.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

I'm a tired broad who has fallen full-on into the Twittersphere since the past couple of early-week posts here.  It's too easy now that I have a smartphone. Throw in the mad dash to clean the house before the in-laws arrived atop the work being done on our house at the same time and I've got lots of things rolling 'round my head that I sorta threw about in Twitter shorthand.

I missed it this week, but I've been taking pictures of the Natchez pier Mississippi River gauge at the edge of the Quarter and posting them on Twitter as "This week's edition of The River Is Too Damn High" in partial homage to this movement and also because the river IS too damn high. My father-in-law understands the phenomenon of drought while a river rises from his visits as a kid to summertime Hannibal, Missouri, further upriver, but it really is something to experience. My Twitter pal and local blogger E.J. has taken the RITDH theme and run with it as a campaign manager for my run for the governor's office. There will be levees around every house, a Flood Deduct Box to, centralize contributions to the effort, "priority boarding for campaign contributors on all future rooftop helicopter rescues," (credit E.J. with that one) and we will get together to tell the higher ground all the way up in Yankee Minnesota where it can shove all this extra water in an action I call the Billion Gallon March. We are currently amending the platform to address the heat by proposing a temperate dome over Louisiana, which is a pretty insular state to begin with, so why not make it a physical reality? Wow, what else is Too Damn High? Let me know, citizens.

As a consequence of the heat and the stupidity, too many children are dying in locked cars in this heat. One is certainly too many, but that number is actually rising. I was afraid to even let the little guy in the car for a few seconds while I went to return the shopping cart to the bin in the grocery store parking lot. Take your kids inside with you when you gotta go places with them in this heat, or make arrangements for them to be indoors with a responsible sitter if you can't take 'em with you someplace. This goes for pets, too. In all seriousness, it's dangerously hot.

And finally, Karran Harper-Royal has been tweeting from the Orleans Parish School Board teacher firings trial in civil district court for the past few weeks and is wondering why in hell the mainstream media is not covering this. Don't start with the possible reasons, just check her Twitter stream and go look at the website for the trial for further updates. Why is this trial important?:
After Hurricane Katrina, the Defendants (local and state education officials) took arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable actions in the aftermath of a national disaster to enact legislation that abrogated the plaintiffs’ employment rights and “property rights.” Political newcomers to the OPSB used Hurricane Katrina as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to carry out an old political agenda to abolish the New Orleans Public School System as it existed before Hurricane Katrina, and replace it with quasi-private, Charter Schools, using public funds. 
Effective November 30, 2005, the Louisiana Legislature passed a law known as “Act 35” which resulted in the State takeover of 107 public schools in New Orleans---with the publicly stated intent to authorize national Charter School operators to take over these schools. Of the 50 State-controlled public schools which reopened nearly a year after Hurricane Katrina, 31 became Charter Schools and 18 were operated by a new State-controlled agency called the “Recovery School District.” It was no surprise that State education officials also refused to allow even tenured pre-Katrina NOPS employees to transfer to the 18 state-run public schools.  They seized an inopportune time…a tragedy…to advance their political agendas.
The combined actions of the local and state education boards threatened the economic and personal survival of 7,500 public school employees and their families. The establishment of 31 quasi-private, publicly funded Charter Schools threatened the future of a public education system in New Orleans. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, these employees enjoyed a property right in their employment guaranteed to them under Louisiana’s Constitution and several State statutes. The storm took their homes but local and state education officials took their jobs.  
...Court documents and testimony show that 88 of the 120 NOPS schools met or exceeded their state-required School Performance Score (SPS) for the 2004-05 School Year (just prior to Hurricane Katrina) but this fact has not been reported in the media. Nor has it been reported that immediately after the storm, Louisiana State Department of Education officials changed the definition of an acceptable School Performance Score from “60” to “88” which allowed the takeover of 107 NOPS schools---- leaving the local school board with only five (5) schools post-Katrina.
Keep checking it out and spread the word. This trial is simply another way in which state and local governments seem to want our tax dollars to be spent. I don't know about you, but I don't want my money to be going towards endless idiotic fights in court over these asinine decisions that hurt too many people. Do we really elect our legislators on this basis? If so, stop the world, I wanna get off...or maybe I'll amend the gubernatorial platform to include a Trial Costs Are Too Damn High tenet.