Monday, January 12, 2009

The Funny Paper Today

The Funny Paper was in rare form today. One article after another was laugh out loud funny - both the news pages and the editorial section.

Starting with the front page, where there's a big article on the controversy over math instruction. For years, the educrats have been trying to shove down the throats of parents and children their ridiculous theories on how kids learn math. When parents see the stupid stuff their kids are doing (group projects, math journals, spending hours on trivial problems) they go crazy. The educrats hem and haw, try to run out the clock. The persistant parents win.

Well, the article today tried to put the best face on it for the education establishment. The real story is that parents resent their kids being used as guinea pigs as the educrats try once again to pretend they have this new approach to learning (which is nothing more than the same old bullshit John Dewey "constructivism" packaged in some other shiny box) but the parents know better.

Johnny can't multiply 9 times 5 in the fourth grade, but the educrats yammer on about 'conceptual understanding."

This battle has been fought on so many fronts all over the nation, and there's a current battle brewing in Tualatin. Same story.

Then over to the Op-ed page, where there's a plaintive cry for the departure of Gil Kelly, Portland's planning director. We learn that partly because of Kelly's efforts, Portland is "among the best planned cities in the world."

Give me a break! They make a point of saying that without Kelly's efforts, South Waterfront would not have happened! THAT is their example of good planning? Wow!

Then on the other side of the page we have Ryan Deckert, along with some dude on the State Board of Higher Education, telling us how Oregon is going to have the "greenest" universities in the country by spending the governor's planned $1 billion in capital funds on "sustainable" buildings. He celebrates the fact that Oregon requires that any public building built after 2006 must have at least a silver LEED rating.

Which of course means we buy far less for our money in order to save a small amount of energy. And that is pretty much the definition of "sustainability" - spending a lot of money to save a teeny bit of energy.

It's the Oregon way - wasting taxpayer money to support the political agenda of the elites in charge. With guys like Ryan Deckert pretending to be a business leader!

We are so screwed.


MAX Redline said...

Well, the break must have recharged you, Rob - two great posts; both dead-on.

Our fearful "leaders" haven't yet figured out that "sustainability" is inherently unsustainable, at least as they portray it. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for saving energy wherever it makes sense to do so.

That's one reason why I gave up my "green" reel-mower and got a gas-powered one. I found that I had to mow the lawn two or three times to get results approximating what a single pass with a power mower accomplishes.

Your post on the educrats is spot-on; I have a child in PPS and find it's often necessary to correct what she's been "learning" in sKool. And we've been fortunate: our child knew how to read before she ever entered the system, so that idiotic "whole language" idea they push went right past her. She didn't need them to "teach" her how to read.

Anonymous said...

Hey, MaxRedline - Well, you certainly think a lot of yourself. Please give us some specific examples of things you, as her parent, had to "correct" because your daughter had learned them incorrectly. (For example, she learned that Earth has two moons, or something like that.) Also, what is the time span of the mistakes you'll be listing? For example, did they all happen in a week, a school year, grades K-12. Lastly, would you define "whole language" for me, and give me a brief summary of whole language methods? It's certainly lucky she has a gifted father knows all of the time-tested or research-based teaching methods, knows all the world's facts so he can correct his children, and can spot other's mistakes from a mile away.

Now, before you ask, no, I'm not a teacher and neither is my wife. No one in my family is a teacher, and no one in her family is a teacher. I am weary weary weary, though, of know-it-alls. Skool...ha ha, that's rich.

And Rob, must we be all or nothing, be either black or white? The 4th grader next door goes to Kumon (sp?) math. He can divide decimals, divide fractions, and he knows his times facts backwards and forwards. And he is an excellent student. I was in their home earlier this year, and he did a decimal division problem in about five seconds. His dad asked him what the answer meant....let's say it was 4.79. The boy could not explain what 4.79 meant. He was never able to even say something like "it's a number larger than 4, smaller than 5. In my view, I'm inclined to think that what might work would be a combination of drill and practice, practice, practice and the "conceptual understanding" the "educrats," those devils, are using. But at least I don't claim to be an expert at everything. (Funny Paper...ha ha...that's so clever....yeah, clever.)

Anonymous said...

Hey Max Redline - Still trying to figure out what mistakes your daughter's teachers made. If it's that hard to think of examples,maybe the teachers weren't so bad.

Rob Kremer said...

I can't speak for Max, but I can sure relate my own experiences with both whole math and whole language reading. In fact I wrote a long article about it for a local publication. Here's the link:

MAX Redline said...


Well, let's see. For starters, she was "taught" that Columbus was an evil guy, that we shouldn't celebrate a day in his honor, that all of the Indians were peaceful people who lived in harmony with nature until white people showed up.

It's not hard to think of examples, aninnymouse - I simply don't live by your timelines nor snap to attention at your demand.

Anonymous said...

Aninnymouse....clever...yeah, clever. My response, MixRedink:

MR, it's an open forum, and I guess Rob will let me challenge you as long as I'm civil. I'm not giving you orders, though I was testy in my last post and could see - and hear - it when I reread it....sorry.

But I am interested in hearing what your understanding of whole language is, Max, since you are so down on it.

As for your daughter, are you sure she was taught that "all" Indians were peaceful? Could she have misconstrued (sp?)her teachers comments about Columbus? Or perhaps she misread the text? Did she really come home and say "evil" when describing Columbus? Was she 8 or 18 when she learned this stuff?

I'm not saying your daughter is stupid. I'm trying to ascertain if you are just whining in general (like SO many people do) or if your daughter did truly get a poor education at PPS. Is she now out of school? If she is, what is she doing now? Is she successful in her work or in school? MaxRedline, LOTS of people can complain about the education their children are getting (my neighbors do it so, so much). But it's usually the same old song. I know that you don't "live by (my) timelines nor snap to attention at (my) demand." I know Rob can build a better case for such a position...but I'm wondering if you can. Will you a least share a few details, such as when was she given misinformation, her age, by whom (positions/grades, not names), in what context? My childrens' teachers weren't perfect, but they were very good, and usually when we quizzed our kids about some misinformation they came home with, we found that it was really just interpreted incorrectly by their young minds. "Hitler killed millions of Americans in gas chambers" was eventually explained with something like "Well, Hitler was in Germany, and the Americans were fighting Germany because they killed Americans in prisons in Germany. The prisoners were Jewish. Are the neighbors Jewish, Dad?" (This happened in about fifth grade.) We're quite pleased with PPS, but of course it's not perfect, as we (their parents) aren't perfect and as you, MaxR, aren't perfect.

As long as we're discussing education, Max and Rob....Rob is a well known advocate for charter schools, and I'll guess that he also supports merit pay and school vouchers and school choice. All sound like good ideas to me. I also believe strongly in public schools. Here's a question I've not researched. It's about charter schools: Are charter schools currently, or will they be in the future, required to take on all comers? Paraphrased, can charter schools refuse entrance to students, maybe because they speak no English or have learning or physical disabilities or have behavioral problems or get low grades or have blonde hair? Please be clear that I am NOT including private schools in this question. Being private, they can take anyone they want and refuse anyone they want. I'm pretty sure that we must already have laws in Oregon coverning charter schools. What are they? Or, isthere a link you can send me?

To either of you: Do you support merit pay? Should I support it? How would it work? What will be the source the funding needed for merit pay? In fact, what I'd really like is a merit pay plan I can read. Have you got one, Rob? It sounds good, but I honestly don't know how such a thing might work, and I certainly can't see where the money would come from...oops, ended with a preposition: .....can't see where the money would come from, fellas.

Rob Kremer said...

Charter schools can't pick and choose students. Like any other public school they have to take all comers. If there are more applicants than spots available, they have to hold an equitable lottery. The only kids that have any priority is siblings of kids already enrolled. In fact, the law is so strict that even the kids of the charter school's founders are not guaranteed a spot in the school! The text of the law can be found here:

As for merit pay: I don't think merit pay works in combination with collective bargaining. Collective bargaining basically takes discretion from management, and codifies everything from pay scale to work rules in the agreement. Merit pay would be a significant shift of discretion back to management, and I don't see unions allowing that in any meaningful way.

So the only merit pay systems you see under collective bargaining are really more illusory than real. Even if Sizemore's initiative would have passed in November, I have 100% confidence that if implemented, the unions would have found a way to design some system that pretended to be based on merit but was actually more of the same. They are good at that game.

That said, a lot of charter schools use some kind of merit pay system. They are all different, but they look like most private sector pay raise processes - annual review, performance objectives agreed to and understood in advance, with some scoring by the manager. Most of them use test scores as one factor, and take into account the students' incoming scores in order not to penalize those with lower achieving kids.

It doesn't take more money. It is just a different way of deciding raises from the union scale system of automatic step raises.

MAX Redline said...


Back in the hazy, crazy days of the 1960's a fellow by the name of Noam Chomsky came up with the really far-out idea, man, that humans are built with a natural language program. We're wired for words. We don't really "read", per se - we guess at meaning based upon several parameters.

This really took off after the 1970's because it was suddenly cool to guess at the meaning of a word.

In Whole Language, you look at the entire context of a sentence and then take a wild stab at what the words are intended to convey.

While whole language is often referred to as "look-say", it is more appropriately termed "look-guess" (in my opinion).

One of the tenets of whole language is that students "read" as their teachers read aloud to them. And after they've had enough repetitions of the drill, they'll suddenly be able to read and recognize the words all by themselves. Supporters of whole language are in love with it because it's "more compassionate" (really, that's a term often used by these folks!).

However, the great fallacy of whole language is that kids are actually learning to read at all. I submit that all they're learning is pattern recognition, and even that poorly. The fact of the matter is that reading skills involve much more than pattern recognition; unfamiliar words must be deconstructed into more familiar components and then reintegrated in order to actually understand their meaning. Whole language utterly fails in this regard. As you may have guessed, I'm not a fan of touchy-feely stuff, and so I'm not a fan of whole language.

My autistic daughter was reading quite well by age 4. Yes, I know, the constant repetition of a phonics-based approach isn't "compassionate". But it works. And there's a reason why it works: believe it or not, little kids love repetition! For adults, it may not be "compassionate". Little kids, however, thrive on it.

I knew we were in trouble when I took my daughter to school and mentioned to the teacher that she could read. She just gave me a pitying smile as she stuck a name-tag on my daughter's blouse.

When I picked my daughter up later that day, the teacher took me aside: my daughter couldn't possibly have memorized all of her classmates' names!

Umm...remember, I told you she could read.

This is what you get with whole language: the teacher fully expected that the children would associate a few names of other children with their name-tags. She did not expect a child to read those names.

My list of PPS failures and our corrections is pretty extensive, anon. We've been doing this for years.

I'd have been a bit more civil in my prior remarks had you not thrown down the gauntlet immediately: Hey, MaxRedline - Well, you certainly think a lot of yourself.

Actually, I was remarking on Rob's excellent back-to-back posts; not trying to float my own boat.

However, the fact remains that we've been dealing with dysfunctional education in PPS for a number of years. I'm a product of my environment in the sense that my mom taught English at university, in the sense that as a child I was the one winning spelling bees, in the sense that to this day I do not use dictionaries or spell-checkers because the one in my head is faster and more accurate.

My Bride has for some time been employed as regional coordinator for ORPTI (Oregon Parent Training and Information). In this capacity, she provides information and training to parents from The Dalles to Astoria, geared toward helping them to secure the best possible educational environment for their children. Where apparently irresolvable issues arise, she either recommends a mediator or serves as a mediator between parents and school administrators. For the past year or so, she has been serving as well on the State board, having been appointed by Kulongoski.

As for me, I have served as lead author or secondary author of a number of papers that have been published. My work has appeared in peer-reviewed scientific journals such as Journal of Mammology and Journal of Chemical Ecology, among others.

Quite contrary to your characterization of me as a "know-it-all" (though it's mystifying as to how one might derive such a conclusion from a short comment in praise of a blogger's posts), I do not pretend to have extensive knowledge of all subjects. I am, however, well acquainted with a few issues.

As for my daughter: she is presently completing her work in PPS. Last year, she also completed 5 college credits (with a 95% score) in Japanese language. By the way, they don't use "whole language" at the college level - at least, not when teaching Japanese). And yes, when she was 13, she believed that Columbus was an evil man. That came straight out of class. It seemed egregious.

In response to one of your later questions, I absolutely support the concept of merit pay. There are some outstanding teachers in PPS and other districts who should be compensated for their efforts. Unfortunately, this can't be done at present because of the union, which pushes the archaic concept of tenure: those who have been around longest are somehow entitled to perks. That's a counterproductive system, because poor performers are essentially rewarded for just hanging in. I believe that our kids deserve a system that rewards those who push for excellence. As long as the educational systems are controlled by the union, it's never going to happen.

Rob Kremer said...

Max: "For the past year or so, she has been serving as well on the State board, having been appointed by Kulongoski."

She's on the state board of education?

Anonymous said...

Very well stated, MaxR. I admit to thinking you were just a whiner full of hot air. Clearly, you're not. As with so many things in life, it's interesting how people can have totally different reactions to their circumstances in life: both of our families attended PPS - we loved it, you and your wife did not. Of course, we likely were at different schools, but I'm not about to share that information in an attempt to find that out. At least one quibble: You seem to have been able to read SO much from your daughter's teacher's "pitying smile," so much so that you knew you "were in trouble." Rob, thanks for your info in the post above MaxR's.

MAX Redline said...

Sorry for any misunderstanding, Rob - she's on SRC. State Rehabilitation Council. They do the guidelines for state policies in regard to education for kids with disabilities, among other things. Which you doubtless know, just setting things straight. Not trying to be a "know-it-all".

I should have clarified which board in the original comment. My bad; it was getting close to dinner time.

Intended point being: we have a lot of experience with PPS and other schools (she more so than me). Oddly, we talk a lot. I think you're supposed to stop doing that after ten years of marriage, but talking's probably one ot the things that have kept us together for 21.

Other point: I don't pretend to be a "know-it-all" - especially when it comes to education, which is why I follow your work so much. At the same time, among me, my Bride, and my daughter, we have a fair amount of experience in dealing with Oregon's educational systems.

I may not be an expert in "whole language" - but I know what works.

And "whole language" is an illusory construct that's set up not for the kids, but for the folks who want to pass them on. In my view.

Just another example of our schools growing vegetables.


Thanks. I try not to whine. (g) On the one quibble: I didn't really read anything into the pitying smile until after she took me aside to describe the fact that the daughter could not possibly have memorized so much.

It wasn't until the way back home that I began to put all of the clues together. That's when it occurred to me that she smiled because she probably had this belief that everybody figures that their precious little snowflakes are special.

And of course, they are, and well they should be. Unfortunately, she failed to understand that yes, in fact, the girl could read. That realization blew her away; why else would she note that the child couldn't have memorized all of those names?

It was because she actually read the names on the tags.

I concede, however, that I may have mis-read the teacher's smile.

I've never claimed to be perfect, but I do state what I think.

MAX Redline said...


Anon- it's interesting how people can have totally different reactions to their circumstances in life: both of our families attended PPS - we loved it, you and your wife did not.

It's not a matter of loving or not loving the educational systems at PPS and elsewhere. It's very cool that PPS served your needs well.

They simply don't serve everyone else as well.

It's not because they're a bunch of jerks; they aren't. They're simply human, and will take the path of least resistance.

Our daughter would not still be in PPS if we believed that she could not obtain a good education. We simply exercise a great deal of vigilance in order to ensure that it occurs. Thankfully, we've found some really dedicated teachers there.