Friday, July 03, 2015

Lee Siegel is kind of a prick

“….I found myself confronted with a choice that too many people have had to and will have to face. I could give up what had become my vocation (in my case, being a writer) and take a job that I didn’t want in order to repay the huge debt I had accumulated in college and graduate school. Or I could take what I had been led to believe was both the morally and legally reprehensible step of defaulting on my student loans, which was the only way I could survive without wasting my life in a job that had nothing to do with my particular usefulness to society.

I chose life. That is to say, I defaulted on my student loans.”

Ahhh, from the mouth of babes who really, really want to avoid the cost of doing anything in society.  Real talk from a man who thinks society owes him maximum benefit with minimum cost, with a sugar cookie on top.

Mr. Siegel wrote this op-ed column in the beginning of June and the shockwaves have pretty much reverberated around the country as an example of what not to do.  Let’s see if I can summarize.

-Siegel went to a “private liberal arts college” and was forced to transfer because of tuition costs.

-Siegel then went to a state college in New Jersey and dropped out because he “thought I deserved better.”

-Siegel then went to Columbia where he obtained a Bachelors and two Masters degrees.

-Siegel didn’t want to work in jobs he didn’t like when he was in college because he likes writing.

-Siegel defaulted on his loans because fight-the-power.

The unfortunate thing about this story, aside from the fact that Lee Siegel thinks society owes him three degrees from Columbia and an income, is that it actually resonates with this generation’s college attending crowd.  My Facebook feed is full of my former college bound students all clamoring for the platform of Bernie Sanders; the presidential candidate that has made himself known for the “fuck it, let’s just make college free for all” mentality towards college.  This is the realm where Lee Siegel’s actions are seen as legitimate. 

I’m all for reforming the system regarding student loans and college tuition but let’s deal with two issues that people don’t like to acknowledge.

First, students are part of the tuition increase problem.  Not only is the demand for college increasing at a dramatic rate, the demand for the “college experience” is expanding right along with it.  Students want to go to a colleges with great living conditions, high end food, walks through gardens, superior athletic facilities, phenomenal technological equipment, classes about researching Quidditch and analyzing white privilege in ferrets, and having well-known speakers and professors lecture for about 90 minutes a week.  Students are getting iPads to read with their sushi and gluten-free lunches, then heading off to run on the indoor track before attending the Harvard law class taught by Elizabeth Warren (to which she was paid over $300,000).  The college experience could be made to be cheaper except for the fact that students don’t want it that way.

Second, students have been going into debt for a long time.  I recently finished paying off about twenty thousand in college debts, some of it from my own stupidity.  That’s significantly less than most students seeking a Bachelors Degree will have upon leaving an institution of higher learning, and the odds of that debt becoming a greater standard of living are still much higher than someone without the degree.  And as the New York Times highlights, the number of people that do default on student loans is extremely minimal.

Every statistic out there says that while going into debt sucks, the benefit from receiving the college degree far outweighs the problem of going into debt.  This is not to say that every student is prepared to take on the responsibility of the debt, and part of my job as an Economics teacher is to show students that there are ways to minimize the debt burden by the college-going folk.   However many students have been drilled in the art of going to “the best college” without really researching all potential aspects of the decision, including the state college system.  They see California State University of Disappointment instead of the potential to get the same degree at less than half the financial cost.

Lee Siegel’s column is representative of that attitude.  The feeling that society owes them best of everything if they only “work hard” in their own way, and that society then owes them a sense renewal when they screw up because society is mean and corporations are horrible.  Not to simplify the argument for Siegel but suck it up.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Hey California teachers, Jerry Brown just screwed you. Just a little bit but still….

It’s summer time and that means house cleaning.  That’s a metaphorical term as I’m doing plenty to prepare not only for the upcoming school year but also for my educational future.  So, since December 31 of this year is the expiration date of my teaching credential, it’s time to head to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and renew my license.  It’s only a cool $70.  

Wait a minute.  The damn site won’t let me renew my credential.  I wonder what’s going on….


Wow, what a coincidence!  The CTC won’t let me renew my credential now and is raising the fees by over 40%!  Actually, the total fee for me is going to by $102.50 because if you want to actually renew online (you know, without paper) the online processing fee is an extra $2.50.  Why?  I have no idea.  How about this; if you have to go through that boring, pointless horror show known as BTSA, you forgo having to pay for credential renewal forever!  It’s a fair trade.  

So thanks Jerry Brown!  You can’t tell the government to fund a government agency because politics.  Nice job!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Thoughts from the 2015 AP Reading

One of the readers mentioned how idiotic it was that someone had blogged about the AP Reading.  I don’t think it was directed at me but I think I’m safe enough in my posts that I follow the College Board rules and don’t endanger my own future as a grader. 

That said….

-There were four high school teachers and three college professors at my reading table.  All of them had Master’s Degrees, save the one high school teacher from Mendocino County.  That would be me.  This doesn’t give me a complex because a more advanced degree basically means zero in the whole scope of teaching.  But it’s interesting none-the-less that people are spending an enormous amount of money with limited financial gain.

-Scott Walker will never get a vote from me.  What he has done to public education in Wisconsin sounds absolutely horrific. 

-Note to teachers; if you are simply preaching the sermon of the horrific corporation, you are really hurting your kids.  Going on your anti-corporation rants doesn’t allow kids to make real analysis regarding the costs and benefits of globalization. 

-Once again the most depressing thing to read during the grading week are the letters from students who either were forced to take the test, or that had a horrific teacher that did not prepare them.  It seems like more and more schools are throwing APs at students to boost statistics; so they can get ranked in U.S. News and World Report.  Schools are ranked high in that publication based on number of students taking AP tests.  From what I can see they aren’t learning much.

-The usual prom notes, life drama, musical lyrics, and numerous drawings filled out testing booklets this year.  This years oddity; quite a few 9/11 conspiracy theories.  This years trend; ridiculous amounts of “America is #1.”  Quite a few booklets had “why do I care about this shit because America is the best”, a frighteningly un-Advanced Placement attitude. 

Next year?  Maybe.  The dates are getting earlier and earlier, and the brilliance of our elementary school teachers pushed our graduation later.  This sucks for not only AP testing but also AP grading.  I might be out of luck. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Now’s a good time to talk Confederate flag in the classroom

Yes, I know that’s not the official flag of the old Confederacy.  Yes, I know that’s the Confederate battle flag. 

Also, shut up.  You know what we’re talking about here. 

The tragedy in Charleston has brought about a conversation about a controversial item that never really stopped being a controversial item in schools.  Now that Amazon, Sears, Wal-Mart, and eBay have removed Confederate flag items from their stores, and the National Park Service has eliminated sales of items that don’t have historical relevance, I guess the issue of Confederate flags in the classroom should probably be discussed.

While not prominent I’m fairly sure there is a small Confederate flag on some Civil War stuff I have in my classroom.  I’m not a big fan of the Confederate flag.  I don’t see slavery in the symbolism of the flag.  I see disunion and secession.  I see the attempt of a group of people to refuse to progress as a society and were so head-strong to stay in the Dark Ages that they were willing to destroy a new nation.  In the end it’s a symbol of backwardsness.

However I’m also not a big fan of people deciding what is and is not offensive, and then banning those things because they are controversial.  A few years ago controversy sprang up at our school because some people had Confederate flags on their shirts, emblems on their jackets, or stickers on their binders.  Some teachers wanted the items banned because some students found the image offensive.  I was not one of those teachers.  In fact I was one of those teachers who said that, according to the courts, the image did not have a history of causing violence at our school so it was constitutionally questionable to ban it. 

So what happens when a Confederate flag is seen in the classroom?  Most of the time, nothing.  Giving a symbolic item power usually comes from people getting hysterical (justified or not), thus creating a condition that focuses on the item, not the issue.  In all likelihood the Confederate flag will come up early in the year because it’s been on the news.  We’ll discuss what it means, the history behind it, and the constitutional issues around the flag.  In the end the image of the Confederate flag will remain regardless of its offensive nature.  Why?

1.  It’s constitutionally protected under the 1st Amendment. 

2.  Banning “offensive” items, especially those of a political nature, is a really slippery slope.

And we are teaching young adults here.  We are teaching them to think, debate, collaborate, reason, and act in a way that creates a benefit to society.  Debating controversial things is a benefit to society. Enforcing political and social agendas on teenagers because you have a moral superiority complex is not.  I detest the Confederate flag.  That’s not point.  What it represented, what it represents now, and how it will be represented in the future in the minds of these young people. 

That’s the point. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Another AP Reading

The only thing I miss about Kansas City is the BBQ. 

The AP Reading is now in Salt Lake City, Utah and I can’t be more thrilled.  The food inside the convention center is better.  The food outside the convention center is better.  There is no humidity.  The city scape is gorgeous.  The transportation system around the area is one of the best I’ve seen.  Yep, I love Salt Lake City. 

Except for the near beer.  A brother can’t get a damn regular beer with pizza.  Nope.  I order a Blue Moon forgetting where I was and got a 3.4% something-or-other.  Ick.

At the Kansas City Convention Center we had to walk down a couple of long halls, about 2-3 city blocks, to get from chow to testing room.  Here?  We walk about half the distance, only we are about four levels up in a small corner of the convention center.  Sort of like the lost attic area where you can work with no one bothering you. 

Oh, and about the test reading……

Uh, uh, uh; no test info for you.  Remember the number one rule of AP Reading. 

#1 Rule:  Don’t talk about the AP Reading.

Ok, how about a couple of side notes then.

-People here are actually getting quite sick.  Apparently the mixture of the dry air and higher altitude have made a nasty combination for those that don’t drink plenty of water and get some rest.  Me?  I’m a little dry but I’m doing  just fine with the altitude. 

-I left Ukiah at 3 p.m. and stayed the night in Sparks, Nevada.  I left Sparks at 6 a.m. and, stops and all, got to Salt Lake City at around 2:30 (including the time change).  Yes, the trip across the Great Basin area of Nevada sucks.  And it rained half the way across the state. 

-Did you know that AP Comparative Government has the lowest turnover rate for test readers?  They keep coming back!  We seem to all recognize each other as regulars and it’s actually pretty comforting. 

-That also means that I took a bit of razzing about the Giants winning the World Series.  All in good fun.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Week that Was: The Dress Code Edition

That one is an inside joke for students that read this blog.  I've decided that the first thing I'm doing on Monday morning is writing DRESS CODE in huge letters on my board and pontificating about it for an hour.  Just because.


Substitute teaching is difficult.  You wander into a new school and you are totally at the mercy of the classroom management of the teacher.  If the teacher has bad management the students are going to be a nightmare to handle.  If the teacher has good management and a plan, the class is often a breeze. 
I've seen both.  I've been in classrooms with no plans and the teacher had no control over what was going on (back in 2000 before I was in Ukiah), which made for a very interesting hour class.  I learned quickly that one the greatest things a sub could have is a trivia book and a large bag of mini-chocolates.  I've had one real problem with a sub.  It was many years ago and I'm still convinced that it was a student and a teacher with big egos and too much testosterone.  I leave very detailed lesson plans, and 90% of the time those lessons are copied for the students on Edmodo and the work is self-driven.  My class should be a breeze to sub.  

I can't get into details except to say that I started getting massive amounts of texts fifteen minutes into class Thursday morning.  Thankfully I have a fantastically responsive administration and a very patient and mature group of students because the situation could have been U.G.L.Y.  Look subs, follow the lesson plan.  Follow it.  Follow it.  Follow it.  Don't sweat the small stuff; it's not worth the aggravation.  If there is no lesson plan then tell the personnel officer at the school because either that teacher had a serious emergency or is a real jackass.  And bring a trivia book.  A few of them.  With knowledge groupings from 7th grade to 10th grade.  And lots and lots of chocolate.


Speaking of which I did take two days off school to attend my Grandmother's 95th birthday.  I don't take many days off during the school year, mostly because I actually enjoy doing my job.  I rarely get sick (this year I was the only one on my basketball team that did not), though I might stay home to take care of my wife if she's really ill or has a significant injury.  Grandma's 95th is legit.  So I'm in Ashland, Oregon right now.


So the usual $85 Best Western room in Ashland was $250 a night for the Memorial Day weekend.  Ouch.  La Quinta was $140 a night.  So we went a new route; VRBO.  How is it?  Well I'm sitting on a deck of a large studio next to a house overlooking rolling hills of oak trees and deer.  Emigrant Lake is a ten minute walk.  $89 a night.  I'd call it a win.


Maybe just a wee bit. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Sansa Stark’s rape scene elicits mass hypocrisy. (Spoilers)


As far as television is concerned, the rape scene where Ramsey Bolton rapes Sansa Stark while forcing Theon Greyjoy/Reek to watch ranks as the most disturbing scene I’ve seen on a screen in a very long time.  I’ve read the books so the scenes that included Ned Stark’s head being sliced and the Red Wedding were not anywhere close to shocking.  This….this was a fear that started welling up last week with the marriage proposal and slowly became a nightmare with the actual nuptials being performed in Winterfell.  I was so hoping that Sansa was not going to be the victim of Bolton’s sadism while at the same time knowing that in this world a newly married women, whether she liked it or not, was going to be used on her wedding night.  It was profoundly distressing. 

It also created a huge reaction on the Interwebs, including some tweets by a Senator.


The Missouri Senator gets kudos for watching Game of Thrones but to call the scene “gratuitous” destroys a whole lot of credibility on whether or not she’s a regular.  The series is a pantheon of sex and violence that matches George R.R. Martins books fairly well.  But the question should not be whether or not sex and extreme violence should exist in fictional stories.  Such things have existed in great literary works for centuries.  The questions should be much more nuanced. 

Does the rape scene represent the book?

While Sansa Stark is not raped in the book, the character of Jeyne Poole is on her wedding night with…..Ramsey Bolton.  And the scene is far worse.

Should be television viewer have expected this?

Ramsey Bolton is a disgusting individual that is the closest thing to an absolute sadist that exists in the serious.  The producers of Game of Thrones set up the wedding scene when Sansa and Littlefinger were overlooking Moat Cailin, and Sansa was debting on whether or not to proceed to Winterfell.  Viewers had to have been screaming the TV for Sansa not to go because Ramsey was going to do something horrid.  It was a guarantee. 

Does the scene advance the characters or the story?

In the scene Ramsey may have sealed his own fate as when he commits the rape.  If Sansa doesn’t kill him then Reek will; don’t forget that during the scene the camera focuses on Greyjoy as tears stream down his face.  And Sansa has been vacillating back and forth over being a real player in the Game or a scared doe who is simply the victim of numerous instances she can’t control.  Sansa knew this was going to happen the moment she accepted the marriage.  Her overthrow of Ramsey didn’t begin with the rape, it began before that, probably solidified by the dinner scene in the last episode.  The rape magnified the idea that Sansa was no longer the victim.  She’s accepting the situation because it’s going to lead to a larger goal.  Sound crazy?  Then you haven’t been really watching Game of Thrones.   

Game of Thrones is not anti-woman, nor is it a television show that uses sex as a cheap shot at getting viewers.  Lest we forget this…



Remember that debate?  Not too long ago the series was lauded for its powerful female characters and edgy political play where the ladies often had ultimate power while the men played with swords and lost body parts.  Now that some of those women are weaker (often because of other women) the outrage begins that male producers are picking on females and portraying them as victims.  It goes both ways, people.  People seem to forget that Theon Greyjoy had a season, an entire season, where his only scenes were those in which Ramsey Bolton tortured him, including horrific mutilation and sexual abuse.  Not much of a peep was said there.   

It is a fictional series by-the-way.  The sensationalism of sex and violence is plenty over-the-top but in a way that expands and provides depth to the story.  And the television version of the story avoids the morass that the books have become; devoid of the constant carousel of characters on questionable quests don’t ever seem to acquire resolution.  Yes, the Sansa’s rape scene was awful to watch and I would rather have not seen it.  But he politicizing, the phony indignation, and arrogance of claiming the moral high ground is nearly as disturbing as the scene.  

I wish I could turn THAT off instead.