Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I have been musing a bit about the documentary WAITING FOR SUPERMAN, a downer of a film about problems in American education. Although there was much to like, it came off as a propaganda piece for charter schools (some of which are doing amazing things) and an attack on teacher unions. You fall in love with the kids who are striving to get into programs with limited enrollments and are crushed alongside them as their bids in the lotteries fall short (I've been there). Isn't it sad that our children have to rely on luck to get seats in good programs? (I purposely moved into a district with the best possible elementary school and high school for my boys). But a little part of you says that these kids are going to make it, no matter. They have the drive. And there is genuine criticism, accurately leveled, against the "failure factories." I've seen it, been subjected to it in my own education. I think my high school lost more than half of the kids who came in with me in the tenth grade. I had teachers who literally ignored me (because I did well), often to try and help students who need more attention. In senior-year English, for instance, I spent most of my time tutoring students who were years behind me, while I was denied entrance into an AP English class (for what reason, I still do not know), back when there were few AP classes. But I also know this film is biased. Many charter schools simply do not measure up to their promises. Many private schools are attempts by parents to keep their kids away from minorities. The filmmakers do not focus on children who are doomed by factors outside the classroom, and who are probably given more chances and opportunities by teachers than any other individuals in their lives. And I support unions, at least in their position of being an advocate for teachers and a protector against arbitrary decisions by political or bureaucratic overseers---who frankly have agendas that are not always to the benefit of children. I think unions would better serve their membership, however, if they took a reformed approach toward getting rid of poor teachers. I think union representation should be there to prevent unfair firings or dismissals, especially politically motivated ones, but unions would be a stronger force for good if they supported and implemented a system that better evaluated member-teachers and either removed or rehabilitated bad or lazy ones. That there are "holding tanks" of teachers who sit on their butts at full pay for multiple years is a crime (as well as is the system of shuttling poor teachers frm school to school). They should be utilized during their appeals as hall monitors, tutors---heck, even as janitors, if needed. Clerks, front-office people. . .something. But states and countries with strong unions also have the better school records, and comparing the American way against countries that have cradle-to-grave social systems (such as Japan, Finland, and China, with thier mandatory child-care, health, and food programs) is dishonest. We Americans don't have the conformist mentality of the asian students nor the nurturing socialistic attitude of the Europeans. We have to find a middle ground. And yes, money matters. Smaller classes, better assessment, structured learning, and other things are needed. I think that if all kids were forced to go to school together, meaning NO private education, the wealthy and influential would damn well make sure the whole system worked better. Teachers deserve good pay and better support, but have to consider their role as more than just getting a check (and I think most teachers want to save the world and do their best to do so).

Friday, March 18, 2011


It is hard to watch the reports and video from the earthquake and devastating tsunami that crashed upon the north-eastern part of the Japanese islands, a crushing wall of mud, sea, and debris that swept nearly everything in front of it, as deep as six miles into the interior, right through numerous cities, towns, and farmland. How fragile we truly are. One haunting video was shot by an American who luckily drove through a doomed city and reached safety, but the images of townsfolk stepping out of their businesses and homes and looking off toward the sound that must have been the wave, when you know they have little hope in a very short time, really affected me. The sight of a stunned woman sitting with a towering pile of rubble behind her was heart-rending. I can't even think about all the people---especially children---suddenly engulfed in the tide. Surely, there are hundreds of heroic stories, many which will never be known, of individuals who sacrificed to save others. I am humbled by the capacity of the Japanese to absorb such a tragedy and yet remain calm and helpful. One knows that would not be the case here, for the most part. Of course, we have many selfless and heroic people who would step up in commendable ways, but I doubt it would be as impressive and universal as what I have seen from the Japanese. It is daunting to think about the effort it will take to clear that mess, to find the bodies, to locate the missing (hopefully to be reuntied alive, and if not, given proper final rites). Thankfully, all of the families of those friends of mine from Japan seem to have escaped. Now, if the authorities can just stop the meltdown.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Caught Rango with the boys this evening, and I really enjoyed it. Amazing animation. Good humor. I kept thinking, however, that the lead role would have gone to Don Knotts, had he been alive. Although Johnny Depp is a wonderful actor, his voice really isn't all that distinctive in this, something one really needs to stand out in the voice-actor field. No doubt the producers were interested in using his name recognition to put fannies in the seats, but he didn't really stand out, say, like Bill Nighy as Jake the Snake or Ned Beatty as the Mayor. The movie is a nice, humorous send up of the traditional Western, and it was a nice twist to have a Clint Eastwood character as the Spirit of the West. I would have to give this film a good rating.