Wet With Rain

Jul 03 2012

Wet with Rain, my new blog has a post up outlining hat I plan to do with it. See you there.

Fly in the rain

So far, so good. Borderland has remained secure since I cleaned it up yesterday. And no more malware warnings from Google. Yay!

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Hacked and Back

Jul 02 2012

I’ve been delinquent, I know. No posts for a long time. Just busy being me…. and then yesterday I read a post from Steve, another Alaskan blogger, reporting on a message he received from one of his readers telling him about a warning message which said that whatdoino.steve.blogspot.com has content from borderland.northernattitude.org, a well-known malware distributor.

I was on my way out the door, and figured it was some kind of hoax. Yeah. On me.

Later on, curious, I looked at my blog and got blasted with the warning myself. I didn’t know what was going on, since I haven’t worked on the blog for such a long time. I clicked past the Warning – visiting this web site may harm your computer! message, and found the formatting on the control panel was totally gone. There was no way to make anything happen there. The blog’s front page didn’t look bad, though.

Eventually, I decided to log onto the web host’s cpanel and check some of the WordPress files. Lots of strange code there which had a monster string of text following “eval base64_decode” in dozens of files mostly in my wp-content directory, and also in the config file. These are all files that are left as-is during software upgrades since they contain the themes and plugins that allow users to customize their blogs. A regular software update wouldn’t touch them.

My first thought was, “Oh well, this might help with some of my writer’s block angst. I could just trash the whole thing.” But that was just my first thought. I looked at the WordPress support pages and located a My Site was Hacked advice page. All right. Some direction, at least.

For starters, I ran some Sophos Anti-Virus software I found on my computer to see if my own machine was OK. It located a couple of files squirreled away in the Firefox profile directory that should not have been there. I dumped them, and then took care of the infected files on the server. I deleted ALL of the WordPress files and rebuilt the whole site today with a new config file. I took some precautions against repeated attacks, but I have no idea if this fix will hold. I’ve lost the links page, and there are probably several posts without images, since I recklessly deleted everything wholesale. I got back the posts and the comments, which is all that really mattered to me.

Google is still listing this site as possibly infected.

I’ve requested a Malware Review, but I don’t know how long it might take to clean this mess up. Anyone with a link in their blogroll here should probably delete it, since the google warning might mess with traffic to that site. Otherwise, know that I’m working on it, and to the best of my knowledge, it’s been dealt with. I’m sorry for any trouble this might be causing anyone else. I’m really grateful to Steve for his post about this, and for the helpful email he sent me. According to my server log, most of the mischief was done just a couple of days ago.

Borderland is on ice for now. (Not that it’s been very hot here lately.) I’ve backed everything up and locked things down, but I don’t know if the hackers still have a way in. I can re-install everything in quick order now that I know what to do. But I’m not ready to write more here just yet.

I started a new blog at WordPress.com, where I won’t have to think about server-level security issues. I plan to blog there until further notice. Just a “Hello World” post up there now. I’m going to take a little more eclectic approach to the subject matter there than I have with Borderland, and see how it goes. Might be fun.

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Teachers are people, too, my friend.

Jun 08 2012

Remember this?

Responding to a question from an audience member as to why Social Security should be included in deficit talks when it doesn"™t add to the deficit, Romney drifted into a defense of corporate rights.

"œCorporations are people, my friend," he said. "œOf course they are."

Fast forward to today:

Romney said in Iowa that Obama "œwants another stimulus, he wants to hire more government workers. He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It"™s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people."

The word “people” is problematic, apparently.

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Levon Helm

Apr 18 2012

Charles Pierce:

It was what they were all about, Levon and the rest of The Band, in 1968, when the country was coming apart at the seams. Nothing was holding, least of all Mr. Yeats’s center. There were tanks in Prague and there was blood on a balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. The traditional American values of home and family and neighborhood were being fashioned into cheap weapons to use against the people who saw the death and gore as the deepest kind of betrayal of the ideals that made those values worth a damn in the first place. The music was disparate and fragmented; the Beatles were producing masterpieces that they couldn’t or wouldn’t take on the road. Brian Wilson was long gone, spelunking through the canyons of what was left of his mind. Jim Morrison, that tinpot fraud, was mixing bullshit politics with kindergarten Freudian mumbo-jumbo and his band didn’t even have a damn bass player. Elsewhere, there was torpid, silly psychedelia. The British were sort of holding it together, but, in America, even soul was coming apart. Nothing seemed rooted. Nothing abided. Nothing seemed to come from anything else. The whole country was bleeding from wounds nobody could find.

Pierce’s magnificent tribute to what he calls the “true Voice of America” was inspired by an announcement on Levon Helm’s website that he is in the final stages of his battle with cancer.

A little more from Charles Pierce:

It was a summoning of the idea of the American community, which has never been about conformity, either to fashion or to the politics of the moment. And, if you didn’t get the point, there were some sly hints on the record that pointed you back towards what was important, that made you realize that there was an America worth the effort of finding, that there was a country to which it was worth coming home.

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Thank you, Charles. And thank you, Levon Helm, for your music, your voice. You know it’s never been easy. We’ll do our best.

2 responses so far

Search for Meaning

Apr 08 2012

The plain fact is that the planet does not need more “successful” people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every shape and form. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these needs have little to do with success as our culture has defined it.
- David W. Orr

The main work of the teacher, I believe, is to recognize those peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers, and to assist them in their efforts to attain their most noble ambitions. And this is not necessarily about career or college readiness, or data-driven lesson planning.

Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist, and Nazi concentration camp survivor, believed that an individual’s primary motivational drive is the search for meaning.

The clip below is from a lecture Frankl gave in 1972. In it, he expresses what he claims is the “most apt maxim and motto for any psychotherapeutic activity.”

“If we take man as he is, we make him worse. But if we take man as what he should be, we make him capable of becoming what he can be.”

Common Core, Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind – all are standards-based afflictions that are dragging us into the pits.

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Pavement Ends. Travel Strongly

Mar 29 2012

Hazardous Conditions

It’s been a while. Very briefly… we’ve got union contract problems this year – and I volunteered to be a building rep. After bargaining for more than a year, we’ve officially come to an impasse. Aggravating. And time-sucking. Additionally, I’ve got a classroom full of 12-year-old attitudes. At night, I flop on the couch and try to hold my eyes open wide enough to read.

An important part of my personal program is that I run or ski every day to keep sane and steady. The weather is getting warmer – up in the 40′s (F) and gloriously sunny the last two days. And there is still a hell of a lot of snow to watch melt. It’s invigorating. My favorite time of year to be outside, sure, but I have been looking at creams to remove skin tags, frankly. Some of these things are looking pretty rough, so I found some things that would remove the tags while being pretty safe.

We had our spring break a couple of weeks ago, and my son and I went down to Girdwood with our snowboards. We stayed at the resort, and were lucky enough to be there for a big snowstorm. Two feet of powder fell overnight, the most I’d ever been in. The best thing, for me, was that the falling didn’t hurt. Unfortunately, all I could do was fall. And getting back up in that much snow is murder when you end up with your butt lower than your snowboard-encumbered feet. Stuck. Which is why I quit the slopes early each day, and went running instead of snowboarding. I can stand only so much humiliation.

I ran on the Cat Trail and the Winner Creek Trail with my snowshoes a couple of days. But toward the end of the week I was up for something a little easier, so I ran down along the bike path to Crow Creek Road and turned up there, not sure what I’d find this time of year. At least it was a road! Turns out that it’s not officially plowed past the first half mile, but someone has done a fabulous job of opening a single lane beyond the State Maintenance Ends sign.

It was kinda funny, I saw a Hazardous Road Conditions sign, but the snow blocked my view of the bottom of it, so I only read the Travel Strongly part. I thought, Cool! But a little strange. DOT does not usually encourage aggressive adventure travel. I forged on. After all, I was a runner! And this is Alaska. We travel strongly! It was a beautiful sunny day. The footing was smooth. It was quiet and peaceful. I ran up the road for about 15 minutes before I decided to turn around. Really, really, a nice break from the wacky powder frenzy up on the mountain. I ran back to the hotel and soaked in the hot tub. It was a good hour and a quarter run.

The next day I did the same thing. But I got a better look at that sign, and I realized that with the part I didn’t see the day before, it actually said, Travel Strongly Discouraged. It was a WARNING, not a recommendation to proceed with fortitude. Ah! Figures. Still, I had another good run.

But I started thinking how odd it is that the state puts up these Pavement Ends signs, and No Maintenance Sept-May, and they warn people against going there. But with schools, the state flat-funds the education budget and expects us to Deal With It. We don’t even get a sign. Instead, we just get tests, “tougher” standards, and a bunch of flack. I liked the idea of a sign that says Travel Strongly, even though it’d be better to not have to navigate the piles of obstacles that come with having too few resources and too many useless policy directives. Why do they pretend they can improve schools by allocating fewer resources, but with roads, they warn people off of them when they’re unmaintained?

Other signs I’d like to see:

Attacking Teachers Attacks My Future


I may sometimes be absent. But I’m not gone.

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Reframing Ruby Payne

Jan 08 2012

i want change

I read Ruby Payne’s A Framework for Understanding Poverty before our day-long professional development meeting, and like Anita Bohn, writing for Rethinking Schools, I didn’t know whether to laugh at the stupidity or to rage at the offensive stereotyping of people in poverty. For example, a few of Payne’s 18 “hidden rules” for surviving in poverty (p. 38):

  • I know which grocery stores’ garbage bins can be accessed for thrown-away food
  • I know how to get someone out of jail.
  • I know how to get a gun, even if I have a police record.
  • I know how to live without electricity and a phone.

Mostly, I was irritated that I would be required to spend a day listening to comic book scenarios, stereotyped bad guys, and make-believe solutions to real problems. In her Rethinking Schools piece, Anita Bohn remarked, “I am still hard pressed to understand why ideas like this have made Payne the hottest speaker/trainer on poverty on the public school circuit today.”

I’d suggest, simply, that Payne’s appeal for teachers and education reformers is the same as Batman’s mythical superhero storybook appeal: A community faces extraordinary challenges which regular institutions fail to address, and a hero steps forward promising to restore order and harmony for the general good. It’s very simple! Find a villain, characterize the threat by deploying stereotypes that ring true for a worried middle-class person’s biases, and suggest a few self-evident solutions. BAM! BANG! A modern myth.

I voiced my frustrations with the book at our meeting before the presenter arrived when we were doing a brief book talk, jigsaw style. My group was chosen to summarize chapter one. All of the people in my particular group had read the book and found it offensive in various ways. We had a pretty animated discussion, and they asked me to be the spokesman. “I’m speaking for the (otherwise all women) group,” I said, because I am a man, and we are better at public speaking than women. Men have more physical resources with our louder voices, and we have more emotional resources due to our assertiveness. We are also more accustomed to being in charge. We have a culture of leadership, you might say.” I had everyone’s attention, mostly smiling.

Payne builds a case for poverty being about more than just economic need, I said, because she wants teachers to take a measure of responsibility for remedying their condition. She presents us with several case studies of supposedly real people in order to exemplify the problems that poor people face, and along the way she tosses out numerous gross generalizations about what she calls a “culture of poverty” and the moral failures inherent in this entire class of people. As in, “The poor simply see jail as a part of life and not necessarily always bad” (p. 22). Or, “And one of the rules for generational poverty for women is this: you may need to use your body for survival” (p. 24).

It disturbed to me that this so-called training was required as part of our professional development. As far as the hidden rules go, I said, what we really need to think about is whether we want to try to fit kids into a sick society or whether we want to work to make the world a better place for them to live.

Ruby Payne on her website and in her workshop handout, describes the research base for her book:

A Framework for Understanding Poverty is a cognitive study that looks at the thinking or mindsets created by environments. It is a naturalistic inquiry based upon a convenience sample. The inquiry occurred from being involved for 32 years with a neighborhood in generational poverty. This neighborhood comprised 50"“70 people (counts changed based upon situation, death, and mobility), mostly white. From that, an in"depth disciplinary analysis of the research was undertaken to explain the behaviors. It does not qualify as "œresearch" against university standards because it does not have a clean

Translation: Ruby Payne made all of this up. It isn’t worth a damn thing, and nobody with any credibility pays any attention to it.

Even with the disclaimer, I cringed when the presenter, who enthusiastically called herself The Billy Graham of Ruby Payne quoted this mind-boggling little hypothetical chain of causality regarding language and cognition as if it was gospel, from Chapter 8, Instruction and Improving Achievement:

If an individual depends upon a random, episodic story structure for memory patterns, lives in an unpredictable environment, and has not developed the ability to plan, then …

If an individual cannot plan, he/she cannot predict:

If an individual cannot predict, he/she cannot identify cause and effect.

If an individual cannot identify cause and effect, he/she cannot identify consequence.

If an individual cannot identify consequence, he/she cannot control impulsivity.

If an individual cannot control impulsivity, he/she has an inclination toward criminal behavior (p.90).

Outrageous! With all of those italicized phrases, I should mention something about what is known as the deficit model. Payne explains (p. 169-176 ) why her approach does not employ a deficit model, even though she says, “When individuals in poverty encounter the middle-class world of work, school, and other institutions, they do not have all the assets necessary to survive in that environment because what is needed there are proactive, abstract, and verbal skills.” She uses the glass half empty/half full metaphor, and calls her “framework for building resources” a way to fill up the glass (p. 173). Even though she calls her approach, The Additive Model, she nonetheless tries to create a rationale for becoming a glass-filler, to implement what Martin Haberman called the Pedagogy of Poverty, which merely preserves the status quo.

Ironic, isn’t it, that “standards-based education reform” applies to curriculum and testing, but not to staff development? Ironic also that despite severely high military spending, free college education still hasn't come to pass. “Accountability” is for teachers, I suppose, and not for hired consultants.What we’re seeing is a good example of regulatory capture, in which private interests have hamstrung public institutions with crippling rules, encouraging businesses to contaminate the environment with worthless and even harmful products. Ruby Payne’s framework is a toxic waste.

Many thanks to Paul Gorski for his critical perspective on issues of poverty and social class in education.

Note: this post was slightly edited from an earlier version.

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A Decent Education

Dec 27 2011

The role of poverty in what have come to be known as “school outcomes” (or more precisely, test scores) has been getting a fair bit of attention lately at Schools Matter, and elsewhere. Rightly so. At my own school we’ve even been given a reading assignment for our winter holiday, and have been invited to read Ruby Payne’s “Framework for Understanding Poverty” (summary here). This is to prepare us for the indoctrination session to follow upon our return from our break. I’m going to read the book since I opened my mouth at a staff meeting and said that many people disagree with Ruby Payne, and “Would we have a chance to air dissenting points of view?” Take Paul Gorski’s Savage Unrealities or Randy Bomer’s Miseducating Teachers about the Poor, for example. These authors tell us that Payne claims, without any real evidence, that the poor are trapped in a “culture of poverty” and need to be explicitly taught the “hidden rules” of being middle class. I don’t especially look forward to reading this, but I want to be prepared for the meeting, which is part of our school improvement plan after too many of our low-income students did not meet the standardized testing targets last spring.

Servicing the poor is actually a growth industry in our present economy, and it’s been a magnet for school reformers like Ruby Payne and Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach For America. Kopp’s organization was the subject of a critical piece by Andrew Hartman, who contextualizes the whole mess by pointing out:

The organs of middlebrow centrist opinion ”Time Magazine, Atlantic Monthly, the New Republic"”glorify TFA at every opportunity. The Washington Post heralds the nation"™s education reform movement as the "œTFA insurgency""”a perplexing linguistic choice given so-called "œinsurgency" methods have informed national education policies from Reagan to Obama. TFA is, at best, another chimerical attempt in a long history of chimerical attempts to sell educational reform as a solution to class inequality. At worst, it"™s a Trojan horse for all that is unseemly about the contemporary education reform movement.

It’s exhausting, being on the lookout for all of the Trojan horses that are being wheeled into our schoolrooms these days, particularly as there is little when it comes to Integrity In Education. My response has been to try to maintain my focus on the kids, and try to ignore as much of the outside noise as I can. But occasionally, one does need to pay attention to it. I was grateful that Hartman closed his article with a reference to Paul Goodman’s Compulsory Miseducation. Goodman prefaces this short collection of essays by telling us that in his criticisms he does not choose to be generous or fair, since modern life has delivered us into an unprecedented set of conditions which have caused much confusion and resulted in the rigid application of old methods which is “grossly wasteful of wealth and effort and does positive damage to the young.” Hartman summarizes Goodman:

In Compulsory Mis-Education, Goodman extended this general critique of the "œorganized society" to a more specific attack on its socialization method: compulsory schooling. Schooling as socialization, which he described as "œ"˜vocational guidance"™ to fit people wherever they are needed in the productive system," troubled Goodman in means and ends. He both loathed the practice of adjusting children to society and despised the social regime in which children were being adjusted to"”"œour highly organized system of machine production and its corresponding social relations." For Goodman, compulsory schooling thus prepared "œkids to take some part in a democratic society that does not need them."

Goodman published Compulsory Miseducation in 1964. His criticisms are still strikingly, and disturbingly, apt. I would like to close here with just this one, more general recommendation – one which echoes a model of educational change outlined today by P.L. Thomas, Social Context Reform: Where to Start. It should concern us all that we are still trying to articulate a framework for progressive education reform, and I offer Goodman’s recommendation as a kind of mission statement for the era of the Occupy movement.

Fundamentally, there is no right education except growing up into a worthwhile world. Indeed, our excessive concern with problems of education at present simply means that the grown-ups do not have such a world. The poor youth of America will not become equal by rising through the middle class, going to middle-class schools. By plain social justice, the Negroes, and other societies have the right to, and must get, equal opportunity for schooling with the rest, but the exaggerated expectation from the schooling is a chimera — and, I fear, will be shockingly disappointing. But also the middle-class youth will not escape their increasing exploitation and anomie in such schools. A decent education aims at, prepares for, a more worthwhile future, with a different community spirit, different occupations, and more real utility than attaining status and salary.

We need to make this happen.

5 responses so far

Hitting the Wall

Dec 18 2011

Saulich trail snowscape

I enjoyed the brief period of daylight we had today out on the trails near my home, running. It was 10 below zero, and the trail was firm and fast. It felt great. After many years going through this solstice season in the subarctic, I’ve learned to get out of the house and make use of the daylight as often as possible. Today’s excursion was a snowshoe run. I ski sometimes, too, but the snowshoes are simpler.

This is just the second season that I’ve done any snowshoe running. What got me started with winter trail running was Christopher McDougall’s book, Born to Run. It triggered a long chain of decisions which eventually lead to what might be called a “learning experience” this past September when I ran the Equinox Marathon.

The book tells a story about how McDougall learned about a tribe of Indians living in Mexico’s Copper Canyon who were able to run great distances. Even senior members of the tribe had the ability to go on long runs of up to 50 and even 100 miles. He marveled at the grace with which they moved, and noted that they did not wear running shoes, but instead wore simple sandals. He was amazed that they could run such long distances without sustaining the high rate of injuries so common among runners who wear highly engineered, commercially manufactured running shoes. He hypothesized that perhaps the cushioned shoes encouraged people to run with poor form, and were actually contributing to runners’ injuries. This eventually sparked a trend toward what is being called barefoot, or minimalist running in the running community.

McDougall’s inquiry lead him to look at the history of running, and he learned that there is a body of research suggesting that humans are natural-born runners, evolutionarily speaking. Our ability to sweat allows us to run great distances at a moderate pace, whereas other animal species – many of which humans like to eat – need to stop and pant to cool down. This would have enabled humans to engage in what is called persistence hunting, and to kill prey animals at close range. All in all, it was an intriguing book, and it made me wonder if I could ever get into good enough shape to tackle some long runs.

My wife remarked that if I was interested, I had the time and enough of a training base to train for the marathon in the fall, and so I started seriously thinking about it. I worked out at the gym every day, and ran every weekend for the rest of the winter. I ran several days a week throughout the summer, putting in 40+ mile training weeks. I went out on several long runs in excess of two hours, and I ran competitively in a series of longish trail runs put on by the local running club. I didn’t know if I was ready for the marathon, but I did know that the the only way to find out was to try it.

One of the unique features of the Equinox Marathon is that there is a 2000 foot climb up to the top of Ester Dome in the middle section of the race. It’s kind of a gonzo marathon, not one that anyone who wanted a good time would do. I’m pretty good at running hills, so I wasn’t concerned about the climb. That was probably a mistake. I went out a little too briskly, I think, given the amount of training I’d done. By the time I got to the top of the dome, at 12 miles, I was starting to feel some worrisome aches in my hips, and my legs weren’t as snappy as they’d been. But hey, I’d made it to the top. The hard part was over, I thought. Hah! By the time I started heading back down, at 17 miles, the aches had gotten much worse, and I was walking the steeper sections. Going down an exceptionally steep place, known as The Chute, my knees wanted to buckle, and I began having a hard time even walking. And I still had 9 miles to go!

Getting to the finish line was agony. I limped and walked most of the last 9 miles. Other runners streamed by me. I remember being passed by a little 8 year-old kid at one point. I was utterly destroyed. My own mental state became a focus point for me, though. I suppose that was because my physical condition was so beyond repair. I began to watch my expectations gradually get scaled back. I’d gone from hoping to finish in 4 hours to hoping I could just make it to the next set of mailboxes or the next telephone pole. When I got near the finish line I met my daughter running the course in reverse looking for me, and she paced me in, urging me to keep running, which I did. But it wasn’t without a fair bit of whining near the very end. The muscles in my hips, knees and calves were completely played out. All that was left was pain and determination.

I wasn’t proud when I crossed the finish line. Just done. I was disappointed because I’d wanted my finish to be more graceful, more under control, instead of the desperate slog it turned into. But what it was, was all I had. It took me several weeks of hearing congratulations from various people to see it as the achievement that it actually was. I’d run a marathon at age 58. I’d finished in the middle of my age-group, and I’d begun planning for next time.

If somebody had offered me money (as in merit pay), or somehow tried to “motivate” me do this, I wouldn’t have done it. Reaching beyond my capacity is something I would only do for personal reasons, beyond the realm of ordinary motivation, and tests like this have to be undertaken voluntarily. Tests, in and of themselves, don’t call people to their best efforts. Real teaching has to begin with the intentions of the learner, not the teacher, and certainly not the administrator or the policy maker. The more I work in the shadow of the standards movement, the less I want to listen to anyone but the kids, themselves, for guidance about what they really need to learn. What good is an education if, in the bargain, we all lose sight of who and what we really are?

The barefoot running movement is a reaction to corporate involvement in running, which in reality is something that any healthy person can do without special equipment. Running shoes represent a form of standardized “curriculum” for our feet and a marketing opportunity for corporate interests. And now there’s a question about whether they may actually be responsible for some of the many injuries that runners suffer each year. Corporate control of school reform, curriculum, and teacher education, coupled with mandatory high stakes testing will do the same to education as it has to running, and we’ll inherit an overbuilt, inhumane institution that accomplishes nothing that it isn’t already doing – except create more losers. Already, schools are becoming pressure cookers in which there are expectations that anyone who works hard can be a winner. Win what? Really, anyone? Ahh, well …..

The days will soon be getting longer. Nothing to do but take care of each other and watch the changes unfold.

7 responses so far

Winter Light

Dec 16 2011

Long nights and dark days in the far north this time of year open a window to some magnificent light shows. From Finland’s travel and tourism site: “Aurora is a natural light display in the sky, particularly in the polar regions, caused by the collision of charged particles directed by the Earth’s magnetic field.”

You might want to watch this one full screen.

(via Alaska Dispatch and Eye on the Arctic)

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