Orwell Blushed

Washington Democrats should stop treating students and families as political pawns and start working with Republicans on real solutions that will move the country forward. The House remains focused on policies that promote job creation, so that every graduate who wants a job can find a job. The committee will also continue its work to strengthen the postsecondary education system through reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. The president should join these efforts, rather than stage more campaign-style events at the expense of students and families.

Education and The Workforce Committee, Press Release, Congressman John Kline, Chairman

Congressman Kline and his committee have created what could be called a perfect form of Orwellian double-speak. President Obama’s proposal is very simple and in fact very Republican: allow students to refinance their loans. If we are lucky, this might increase competition and lower loan costs at no cost to the government. That is what used to be a formula for every conservative proposal: use the market, zero-costs. We ought to be wondering why a Democrat sounds so much like President Reagan. Congressman Kline makes it seem like socialism.

That’s only the first layer of hypocrisy. The Congressman then goes on to claim that the real problem is unemployment, as if it would be fine to exploit students with outrageous loans as long as they have a good job. Even more ironically, the Republican House has not offered even a the most minor of jobs programs in many years. In fact, the Republican obsession with the deficit– a transparently self-serving obsession, of course, since it serves their masters so well– has prevented the levels of government spending that would make a real dent in unemployment.

Class Field Trip

The progressive private school considers the visits to be one of the most radical things it does. “We knew we needed to talk about social class,” said Lois Gelernt, the teacher who came up with the idea. “It was opening up a can of worms, but if we were never going to talk about who we are and where we come from, the sense of community wasn’t going to be there.”

At first glance, Manhattan Country School seems like an unlikely place to be having that conversation. The school, which starts with the pre-K-aged children and goes through eighth grade, occupies a giant townhouse on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, just steps from Central Park. The name evokes clenched-jaw accents and competitive horsemanship, though in reality the older children milk cows and gather eggs on a school-owned farm upstate.

“For Lessons About Class, a Field Trip Takes Students Home.” Ron Lieber

I think this is both a very good idea and a very limited one. The problem is that it is so difficult to go from an experiential ethnography of class to a critically aware analysis. We cannot expect young children to be critically and intellectually developed enough, of course, to understand that in many cases what they are seeing amounts to systematic inequality and injustice. Even older students struggle to understand that inequity isn’t natural but a product of human society. One can hope, of course, that these sorts of lessons can help to combat the reification of class and lay the foundation for a more profound understanding.

Right Turn: Let’s Get Back to Cheap!

WASHINGTON, D.C. | May 28, 2014 –

It’s no secret the president’s health care law is making life difficult for working families. Many of the ObamaCare problems plaguing the nation’s workplaces – lower wages, loss of existing coverage, higher costs – are emerging in classrooms across the country as well. To learn more about the consequences of the health care law on the nation’s schools and students, the Education and the Workforce Committee launched the #YourStory initiative.

via Left Turn: Schools and Colleges Continue to Struggle under ObamaCare’s Burdensome Mandates | Education & the Workforce Committee.

I follow Congressman Kline’s committee to get a sense of this strain of the U.S. right-wing, which seems unwilling to do more than to offer rhetorical fodder for the most paranoid. This is a particularly cynical line of reasoning. Obviously, school districts, thanks to three decades of right-wing government bashing and budget cutting, are struggling for funding. One of the ways they have saved money over the years is by cutting out full-time positions. (Another way is to privatize the schools and so beat back the unions.)

We have an odd ethical principle in the U.S. that says that part-time people don’t need benefits; workers without benefits are very cheap. This was bad for everyone. In a minor way, the ACA is trying to turn that around. Is there a great outcry for adequate pubic school funding? Not a peep. Is there an outcry about the over use of part-time people in education? Not a peep. All of our problems are caused by the ACA. We just need to get rid of it and get back to the good old days when schools could rely on cheap labor.

The Science of the Obvious

Are your lectures droning on? Change it up every 10 minutes with more active teaching techniques and more students will succeed, researchers say. A new study finds that undergraduate students in classes with traditional stand-and-deliver lectures are 1.5 times more likely to fail than students in classes that use more stimulating, so-called active learning methods.

“Universities were founded in Western Europe in 1050 and lecturing has been the predominant form of teaching ever since,” says biologist Scott Freeman of the University of Washington, Seattle. But many scholars have challenged the “sage on a stage” approach to teaching science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses, arguing that engaging students with questions or group activities is more effective.

Lectures Aren’t Just Boring, They’re Ineffective, Too, Study Finds,” Aleszu Bajak

We know what works and what does not work in education. We know standardized tests don’t work. We know that lectures don’t work well. We know that we need small classes and well paid full-time teachers. Our problem isn’t knowledge, it’s money. It won’t be research that solves these problems.

A Nut’s A Nut

The effects of human-induced climate change are being felt in every corner of the United States, scientists reported Tuesday, with water growing scarcer in dry regions, torrential rains increasing in wet regions, heat waves becoming more common and more severe, wildfires growing worse, and forests dying under assault from heat-loving insects.

“Wide Impact of Climate Change Already Seen in U.S., Study Says,” Justin Gills

On Sunday, Germany’s impressive streak of renewable energy milestones continued, with renewable energy generation surging to a record portion — nearly 75 percent — of the country’s overall electricity demand by midday. With wind and solar in particular filling such a huge portion of the country’s power demand, electricity prices actually dipped into the negative for much of the afternoon, according to Renewables International.

In the first quarter of 2014, renewable energy sources met a record 27 percent of the country’s electricity demand, thanks to additional installations and favorable weather. “Renewable generators produced 40.2 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, up from 35.7 billion kilowatt-hours in the same period last year,” Bloomberg reported. Much of the country’s renewable energy growth has occurred in the past decade and, as a point of comparison, Germany’s 27 percent is double the approximately 13 percent of U.S. electricity supply powered by renewables as of November 2013.

Germany Sets New Record, Generating 74 Percent Of Power Needs From Renewable Energy,” Kiley Kroh

Here’s is what I am afraid is going to be the new normal. On the one hand, we watch the weather shift and change in dramatic ways, and the evidence for climate change’s impact on our current climate will continue to grow. On the other hand what can only be called right wing nuts, like Senator Rubio, will continue to claim that the facts are not facts. The emperor, they will say, is fully clothed. I think it is important that we stop saying that this is cynicism, or that it is courting the right, and start calling this behavior for what it is, no matter what its ultimate origins or purpose might be. Its’s nuts. (Idaho just set the bar to a new low.)

People who say that climate change isn’t real are denying facts and people who deny facts– especially facts concerning real immediate danger–are not qualified for public office. Simple. If someone declared that that bullets bounced off their chest, we wouldn’t give them a second thought if they wanted to run for President. Once it becomes normal to disqualify the counter-factual gang then we might be able to follow Germany’s example (perhaps in labor law as well) and start dealing shutting down the fossil fuel industry before it shuts us down. If the German example shows us anything it is that real change is possible.