Crossing the River

The Book of the Week is “Crossing the River” by Victor Grossman, published in 2003.

This autobiography tells how an American defected to East Germany during the Korean War. A very unusual story, indeed. He was brainwashed by both his parents, intellectual Communists, in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

He tried to rationalize his penchant for suffering by saying that the cruel and unusual goings-on in the US actually provided a worse way for people to live, than the East Germans did. In the early 1950’s, the McCarthy era was in full swing, the US had ousted the leader of Guatemala in a bloody affair, and instigated another shameful coup in Iran; there was the ugliness at Peekskill, there was still segregation; besides, the Soviets had helped defeat Germany. Comrade Stalin was a god, to the Communists.

The author argues that in 1960, the quality of life wasn’t so bad in East Germany. Yes, there were severe food shortages, but everyone’s medical care was paid for, and everyone had a job or was provided with necessities for survival, and assistance for finding a job, according to his own need. Of course, the people also spent needless hours every day manually washing clothes and dishes, lighting a fire in the pot-bellied stove, and patiently waiting for unreliable public transportation, or hoofing it, because they couldn’t afford a car.

In the early 1960’s, the East Germans kept trying to attack the integrity of the Federal Republic (of West Germany) (with good reason) by publicizing the fact that a large number of ex-Nazis (who had committed unspeakable war crimes) were working in civil service– as judges, even(!) and in the West’s armed forces. It was somewhat alarming that so many Nazis were helping Germany to re-arm, and becoming a pivotal force in NATO.

In the late 1980s, the East German leaders staged a few media incidents, trying to continue to isolate the “German Democratic Republic” (the misnomer that was East Germany) clinging to power, believing that only they could be keepers of the flame. The East Germans, like the Chinese, were into self-criticism circles. They had “tutors”, who bullied doubters and discouraged free-thinkers, cutting them down with questions such as, “Are you questioning the collective judgment of experienced Marxist leaders, able to assess factors far better than any individual? Could you be more correct than they are?”

It was a traumatic time for the author when Khrushchev revealed Stalin’s crimes in the mid 1950’s. But the author continued to rationalize that his adopted homeland was still a better place to live than imperialist America. It’s an excellent book anyway.

Ms. Moffett’s First Year

The Book of the Week is “Ms. Moffett’s First Year”, by Abby Goodnough, published in 2006. This book raised many controversial education issues, ranging from special education to the curriculum, to the extent to which a teacher should have a relationship with a student.

The story focuses on one Fellow’s trials and tribulations in her first year of teaching. It was the first year of the Fellowship Program (the 2000-2001 academic year), which offered a tuition-free master’s degree (night school), with limitations and restrictions for those accepted. Established teachers were resentful of this perk that new teachers got. Some were still paying off their student loans.

The 40-something Ms. Moffett quit her job as a legal secretary to seek fulfillment changing young lives as a Fellow. She was assigned a class of about 20 first graders at P.S. 92 in Flatbush, Brooklyn, a depressed immigrant neighborhood.

There had been federally mandated teaching reforms instituted that year. States received education grant money for buying into various teaching methods, such as “Success For All”. New York liked that method because it had worked for other school districts, and it was tailored for inexperienced teachers. Success For All provided the teacher with a script she was to read verbatim, and the same textbooks for all the city’s schools. The teacher had a pre-fabricated lesson she need not lift a finger planning for.

Throughout the year, several different school administrators observed Ms. Moffett’s teaching. Sometimes she was given contradictory information about what to do in certain situations. In one incident, one student had a strong urge to continue writing a composition when the schedule called for a different subject to be taught.

One administrator criticized Ms. Moffett for letting that student continue to write, and said she should force the student to stop writing– assert her authority. Another administrator told Ms. Moffett it was okay to allow the student to continue writing, as it was so difficult to get students to focus on a particular activity, and this might boost the student’s self esteem.

Ms. Moffett often fell behind the strict schedule dictated by educrats, trying to get the students to behave. Unluckily, she was assigned more unruly students than was usual for a class such as hers. There were about 4 or 5 who could not sit still, had the attention span of flies, and could not learn.

For the first month of school, one student’s parent had to stay in the classroom, lest the student throw a temper tantrum if the parent left her. A few of the kids truly needed special education. However, it was extremely expensive to create a special education class just for these students. Keeping them in a regular class was also expensive– in terms of teaching time taken away from the other students.

Ms. Moffett put in requests to have these students tested for learning disabilities, but her requests were ignored. Instead, by the middle of the year, the students had either moved away, or been transferred to other classes or other schools. Ms. Moffett then got three new students in exchange, who could learn and were well-behaved. This changed the whole dynamic of the classroom. The learning environment was much improved.

School administrators severely criticized Ms. Moffett’s ways in their evaluations, fearing a cutoff of funding from the State Education Department if the school did not follow the standards and practices set by the Department. On the day Department inspectors were to visit P.S. 92, the administrators went into Ms. Moffett’s classroom and pressured her to re-decorate the classroom bulletin boards with student work that would be acceptable to the inspectors. Sometimes teachers even doctored students’ work to make it appear that the students were learning more than they really were.

Deprivation was a major characteristic of many of the students’ home lives. They didn’t get enough attention, enough to eat, enough care in general. Ms. Moffett, an idealist, had a strong desire to help improve the quality of the children’s lives. She did so with one particular child. The school strongly advised against getting involved with children outside of school, not just because there were liability issues.  It was unfair to favor one child, when so many others were just as needy of individual attention and did not get it.

Ms. Moffett survived her first year teaching. Despite all of the negative feedback she received from her evaluators, and all the stress she had to endure, she realized that teaching was fulfilling to her. Read the book to find out what happened.

Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality

The Book of the Week is “Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality” by Glenn C. Ellenbogen, published in 1987.  This book contains a series of satirical/humorous articles and features on psychology.  One feature is “A Comprehensive Exam for Students in Introductory Psychology.”

The third question is, “Based on your knowledge of RNA and DNA, create human life.  Then clone 40 sets of identical twins and conduct a behavioral genetics experiment that puts the nature versus nurture question to rest, once and for all.”

The sixth question is, “Estimate the statistical problems which might accompany the end of the world.  Construct an experiment to test your theory.  Use the .05 level of significance.”

Even though this book was written by a PhD, it is good comic relief for laypeople.

Who’s Teaching Your Children?

The Book of the Week is “Who’s Teaching Your Children?” by Vivian Troen and Katherine C. Boles, published in 2003.

This book describes the ominous future of education in the United States.  There is a dire teacher shortage which is slated only to get worse.  A vicious cycle accounts for this trend.  The authors ask, is it not a contradiction that parents demand quality teachers in their children’s schools but discourage their children from becoming teachers?

A large percentage of graduates who enter the teaching profession are not good students.  The ones who are, take more lucrative, rewarding jobs.  The teachers-to-be receive poor training.  For the most part, during their careers, they are underpaid and underappreciated.  No wonder the good students enter fields other than education.

Many teacher-training schools are for-profit institutions that need to fill seats to stay in business.  Therefore, in order to attract customers (graduates) they need to make obtaining teaching certification sufficiently easy.  “Grade inflation” (awarding higher grades than customers truly deserve in order to pass some customers who would otherwise fail) is one way they do so.

The authors present a scenario of their imagination, named, “The Millennium School.”  It is an elementary school that doubles as a teacher-training school, with a structure completely different from the usual American school’s.  It would be a small school with small classes, consisting of chief instructors “who supervise professional teachers, who supervise the teachers and associate teachers, who participate in supervising interns and instructional aides.”

Everyone on the team would be accountable for each child’s success or failure. The personnel would conduct classes and hold meetings as teams.  The school would be linked to a college, which would allow the teacher-trainees to fulfill the student-teaching component of their training, in teams.

I think the authors make exaggerated claims of such a school’s possible success, although it is a nice idea.  I like the team-teaching part.  However, the whole point is that power is distributed among many educators– they are supposed to cooperate, share ideas, and be rewarded with higher pay, more responsibilities and supervisory duties when they display an interest in advancing their careers. However, to me, this smacks of a corporate ladder.  Human nature is such that the ladder would spur competition rather than cooperation.  That would defeat the whole goal.

In addition, a school is a different sort of entity because it is funded by taxpayers. The kinds of operations a private company might fund for itself would not be possible for a school, due to a limited budget. There is an exception to this situation– in certain areas of this country, schools receive private monies from wealthy donors, making distribution of resources hugely uneven among schools.  As for the well-endowed schools, the funders are not educators, so they may have misguided notions of where to spend their money.  The money might go toward additional standardized testing, resources that reward corporate partners and activities relating to public relations, rather than toward real improvement in education quality.

Further, the government supervises the school, so there are politics from above and within.  The authors acknowledge the Millennium School model would necessarily be more expensive, but they argue that this model would eliminate many non-teaching positions, such as “curriculum coordinators, staff developers, teaching coaches,” etc. The resulting reduced payroll expenses would compensate for the raises received by the teachers and supervisors.

I think raises in pay would be extremely controversial– who would receive how much.  Theoretically, employees who acquired additional experience would deserve more pay.  However, the expedient way to measure the increase in education quality due to that increased experience, would probably be through standardized tests– another extremely controversial aspect of teaching.

I would suggest that various criteria be used to determine additional compensation for supervisors and teachers, that could include tests, as well as qualitative evaluations of supervisors, completed by teachers and trainees, and interviews with students.  Although I give them an “A” for effort, the authors present too simplified a model of the ideal school.

This is an informative, yet depressing book.

60s

The Book of the Week is “60s!”– a book of pop cultural trivia, compiled by John and Gordon Javna, published in 1983.  Mostly happy topics are covered, such as American hobbies, cars, entertainment, and a bit of politics and drugs.  The book is visually appealing because it has plenty of black and white photos that show the youthful, revolutionary spirit of the era.  Interesting bits of trivia are interspersed with lists of things you didn’t know, and the decade’s “top tens” of each year.

In 1969, the 56-year old Richard Nixon received a father’s day gift of an inscribed surfboard from his daughters. He never used it.

Ford Motor Company had an electric car in the works, as car pollution was a concern.

Americans were wild about outer space, beauty contests, TV dinners, TV, secret agents, spies, comic books, The Beatles, rock and roll, monsters and trading cards.

New products included disposable diapers, fast typewriters, ready-to-eat cereals and prepared foods.

The Kennedy family was all the rage.  John aroused a national interest in reading, physical fitness, idealism, intellectualism, sex, youth, rocking chairs and antiques. He and Jackie were stylish, rich and glamorous.

One 60’s-era relic we consider ridiculous today– fallout shelters.

Some concepts became obsolete, such as the milkman and the rotary dial phone.

The 2000’s have ushered in a whole new slew of youthful, revolutionary pop cultural icons and sources of amusement.  Three decades from now, the current teenage generation will laugh at them.  Time will have rewritten every line.

To Kill A Tiger

The Book of the Week is the memoir, “To Kill a Tiger” by Jid Lee, published in 2010.  The author describes the extreme hardships (“tigers”) she endured growing up, due to the culture of her generation in South Korea.

After WWII, North Korean dictator Syngman Rhee and South Korean dictator Kim Il Sung both conducted witchhunts to root out political dissidents, torturing and killing them.  Kim was aided by the U.S. in his oppressive endeavors. The author’s father engaged in anti-government, pro-socialist activities as a college student, and as a consequence, was:  expelled from a prestigious university, tortured, imprisoned and forced to accept a lowly position teaching instead of “selling out” to become a high government official. Yes, this happened in South Korea.

The education system was based on rote learning. The author, born in 1955, unfortunately had trouble with memorization, and therefore did poorly in school.  Her two older brothers tutored her extensively to help her pass the admissions test that allowed her to attend a decent high school.  However, she failed her college admissions test– two eight-hour exam days– twice, and had to settle for a second-tier college a year later than her peers.

Since she was female, she was expected to help her mother with all the household chores in addition to attending school and studying, which meant she labored sixteen hours a day starting in middle school.  In her male-dominated world, during her teenage years, stress and anger were relieved through abuse heaped upon her by her father, older brothers, grandmother and mother.  She in turn rebelliously fought back against her mother and was mean to her younger sister.

There was extreme pressure for both genders to attend prestigious schools but the educational elitism for females merely served the purpose of “marrying well.” After college graduation, the daughters were supposed to enter into marriages arranged by their fathers, and be good wives and mothers.   Read the book to learn what has become of the author.

Sad Post

This message is for my Facebook friends:

Dear Facebook Friends,

I received the following email from Facebook:

“We have detected that your Facebook account is infected with a form of malware, or virus, called Koobface. You downloaded the virus after receiving a message from a friend, which invited you to view a video.”

I had not received any messages inviting me to view any videos. Regardless, FB then required me to take a quiz that was impossible to pass (to prove I was me), in order for me to log into my account again.

I have therefore decided to quit FB altogether.

You will be receiving personal messages from me via emails or through your websites.

If you wish to contact me, please leave comments here. I have been unable to receive all personal messages through FB in the past 2 days. If you have sent me any, please resend them through commenting here. Thank you very much. I am going to miss your posts.

Sincerely,

Sally

Walking on Walnuts

The Book of the Week is “Walking on Walnuts” by Nancy Ring, published in 1997.  This book is the career memoir of a pastry chef in New York City.  Ms. Ring discusses the uncertainty surrounding the fiercely competitive restaurant business in New York, and thus the attendant job insecurity of a pastry chef.  She discusses the details of the job– long hours, difficult bosses, hard work, and a hilarious episode in which The Fig Tree restaurant personnel were tipped off that a very influential restaurant reviewer, one Bette Brown, was to visit one night.

A woman fitting the reviewer’s description entered the eatery with her entourage.  She proceeded to complain about a draft at her table, then when moved, about being too close to the waiter’s station.  The bread basket caught fire from a candle on the table…  You can see where this is going– a long series of further mishaps, complaint-fodder for the fussy diner, “… who sarcastically asked Liz [the waitress] if she had graduated from high school.” Ms. Ring, who was also a waitress there at the time, witnessed Liz’s feisty temper flare as she finally told off the customer.

The supposed Ms. Brown confronted Carl, the restaurant owner, who, at the bar, was “… busy crying into his fourth double bourbon.” With the ‘don’t-you-know-who-I-am’ speech, she told off Carl, telling him her name.  It was not Bette Brown.  Carl was extremely relieved.  A good dining experience was had by the actual Bette Brown, who had been there earlier that evening.

This book contains not only entertaining anecdotes, but recipes, too.

BONUS POST

I am pleased to announce that my book:

“The Education and Deconstruction of Mr. Bloomberg, How the Mayor’s Education and Real Estate Development Policies Affected New Yorkers 2002-2009 Inclusive”

is out.

Please find below, the first page of the Table of Contents and a page of the Introduction. [Please excuse the wonky formatting]

Copyright © 2016 by Sally A. Friedman

CONTENTS

Introduction ……………………………………………………………………………….. 7

SECTION I

1 Education—Overview ……………………………………………………………….. 15

2 Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein …………………………………………………. 17

3 The Education Budget ……………………………………………………………… 21

4 Student Subgroups …………………………………………………………………. 42

5 What Did Your School Get? ………………………………………………………. 52

6 Propaganda ……………………………………………………………………………. 57

7 Reducing Class Sizes ……………………………………………………………….. 65

8 Small Schools …………………………………………………………………………. 73

9 Testing, Testing. One million. Two million. Testing, Testing. …………. 78

10 Unsafe At Any Rate . . . ………………………………………………………….. 87

11 Charter Schools and Culturally-Themed Schools………………………… 95

12 School Construction ……………………………………………………………… 109

13 Mayoral Control ……………………………………………………………………. 114

SECTION II

1 Rezoning and ULURP …………………………………………………………….. 121

2 Zoning Meetings ……………………………………………………………………. 127

3 Construction Woes …………………………………………………………………. 133

4 Self-Certification ……………………………………………………………………. 145

5 Deutsche Bank Building ………………………………………………………….. 148

6 Other Deadly Mishaps …………………………………………………………….. 153

7 Enforcement ………………………………………………………………………….. 160

8 Mr. Bloomberg’s Stadiums ……………………………………………………….. 167

9 Other Parks Projects ……………………………………………………………….. 176

10 Other Law-Skirting Projects ……………………………………………………. 182

11 Other Brooklyn Projects …………………………………………………………. 187

12 Atlantic Yards ………………………………………………………………………. 191

* * *

INTRODUCTION, p. 11

…making himself available to parents. The mayor performed the important tasks of negotiating with the unions, securing funding from the higher powers and making public relations appearances when there was good news to report.

I have observed that there were three recurring themes in Mr. Bloomberg’s modus operandi in both Education and Real Estate Development:

Theme 1: He was overly optimistic. As his various education initiatives and construction projects progressed, he routinely threw around and changed numbers on standardized test scores, graduation rates, school openings, school crime rates, construction costs, creation of jobs and affordable housing units, among others, and sometimes even distorted facts outright.

Theme 2: Time after time, Mr. Bloomberg asked for input from the community, or purported to, on new school openings and on construction of schools and other projects, but usually ended up hiring his cronies and ignored the community’s wishes.

Theme 3: He took advantage of legal loopholes or skirted around the law to forge ahead with his agendum.

His agendum was to acquire power. Why else did he take control of the schools and overturn term limits? It was not for the money. In November 2009, Mr. Bloomberg won his third-term election bid by a narrow margin, mostly because he was still viewed as a stronger candidate than the opposing one. His power and popularity were waning, however, rocked by various investigations in recent years, including a slush-fund scandal, and corruption and sloppiness in construction that led to fatal accidents, that resulted in the termination of decades-long unethical practices. Further, he was accused of being involved in various conflicts of interest and of being hypocritical on environmental and health issues.

Two farmyard clichés and one generic cliché also aptly describe many occurrences during the Bloomberg administration between 2002 and 2009:

Cliché 1: “Just another case of the fox guarding the henhouse”

Cliché 2: “Closing the barn door after the horses have already fled”

Cliché 3: “Do as I say, not as I do”

The above themes and clichés are so common in my text, that I refer to their generic names; i.e., I will use the blog style, for example, “File under Theme 1” or “File under Cliché 2” when providing evidence of same. Enjoy.


Copyright © 2016 by Sally A. Friedman

Bang the Keys

The Book of the Week is “Bang the Keys” by Jill Dearman, published in 2009.  This book tells writers how to identify the kind of writer they are, set goals and deadlines, find a writing partner, use writing journals, meditate, identify the type of story right for them and improve their writing through advice, exercises and sources of additional readings.

This book’s author is a writing instructor and a published writer herself. It has been her practice to pair up writers in her classes so that one serves as morale booster and advisor to the other.

Computers have changed the way writers write.  She cites Lee Siegel’s book, “Against the Machine:  Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob,” commenting that “Essentially, we are fast becoming a mean-spirited race of superficial idiots who are disconnected from each other and from ourselves, and can no long distinguish between gossip and news!”

Needless to say, finishing a piece of writing requires discipline.  Many modern writers become easily distracted by texting, emailing and surfing.  The author gives tips on marking goals on the calendar, setting aside writing time and imagining the kind of counsel one’s own favorite author would give about how to proceed and commit to a project.

The author provides a mnemonic device (P.L.O.T.W.I.C.H) to remind writers how to develop a strong plot:  Premise, Links, Obstacles, Transformation, Wants, Impediments, Conflict and Heat.  Overall, she discusses a general plan for writers denoted by the acronym B.A.N.G.:  Begin, Arrange, Nurture and Go. This is why she says, “Bang the Keys.”