Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Is it possible that I can feel my hair turning grey?

My scalp was tingling with cortisol as I lay in bed this morning, willing myself back to sleep for just a little bit longer, attempting unsuccessfully to ignore my twisted, pounding heart.  WTF, Stress, can't a lady get a little sleep around here?

I don't know what it is about the paper that I'm writing that is making me so crazy.  I have never.  Never in my life.  Had nearly so much trouble writing a paper.

This one makes my toes curl painfully (more like the witch in The Wizard of Oz than sex).  It makes my shoulder blades hug one another in terror, clinging together for dear life.  I'm pretty sure even my ankles are tense.

This is the last day though.  Today it is ending no matter what.  I'm turning the damn thing in and being done with it.

Then, on to the next.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

From MUSE: Marginalia

We want our students to annotate.  We give them lists of possible things to write--types of questions to ask, ways to summarize.  We require a certain number of annotations per page on the texts we assign.  And these things ensure that they are making marks on pages, sure.  

How do we move them away from this antiseptic and rote annotation, though, and into a living, emotional dialogue with text?  It strikes me that it's like trying to teach someone to be a good conversationalist.  You can give pointers, but the best conversations happens when one connects with the one's conversational partner.  And as for being able to talk to anyone, well, that requires that you go to a lot of parties and practice.

I'm sticking with this party metaphor.  I like the idea of sidling up to a book at a cocktail party, dallying in the margins while I nibble canapes.

This post was also published on MUSE '13

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

From MUSE: The 6 C's of Primary Source Analysis

Content (main idea, details)
Citation (author, date)
Context (What was happening when the document was created?)
Connections (links to prior knowledge)
Communications (point of view/bias)
Conclusions (How does the source contribute to our idea of history?)

from the California History-Social Sciences Project

This post was also published on MUSE '13

Heaven Is Not Verbose: A Notebook

Excerpted from Heaven Is Not Verbose: A Notebook by Vera Pavlova 

There are moments when I feel the universe expand.


Pick a piece of wood floating in the river and follow it down the current with your glance, keeping the eyes constantly on it, without getting ahead of the current. This is the way poetry should be read: at the pace of a line.


As I am learning to speak English, I catch myself saying in it not what I want to but what I can say. Then I realize that much the same happens when I speak my native Russian. Only in poems, at times, I manage to say what I want. On such occasions, I feel I am speaking not Russian but some other language that is truly my native.


The sense of life is in living to the fullest the moments when life seems to make sense.


The longer a poem, the weaker the impression that it has been dictated from above: Heaven is not verbose. Besides, the more you talk, the more you lie.

So that I do not lose them . . .

Pastiche:Parody::Unidirectional Double Voicing:Vari-directional Double Voicing?

Interactive Fiction

Speech for which Eugene Debs was charged with sedition.
After he was sentenced, he said, "Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."

Cognitive Grammar v. Generative Grammar?

Perverse Incentives

Susan, silent for a while, replied: “I’m not saying we should do it. I’m saying we ought to know that it’s an option. People should understand that simply exercising their rights would shake the foundations of our justice system which works only so long as we accept its terms. As you know, another brutal system of racial and social control once prevailed in this country, and it never would have ended if some people weren’t willing to risk their lives. It would be nice if reasoned argument would do, but as we’ve seen that’s just not the case. So maybe, just maybe, if we truly want to end this system, some of us will have to risk our lives.”
from Go to Trial: Crash the Justice System, by Michelle Alexander (who wrote The New Jim Crow, which has been on my wishlist for a while and may have to move to the top.)

This hurts in my teeth and in my spine.  Our justice system has become unable to guarantee, even to offer, justice, to provide the basic rights that it was put in place to ensure. 

Now, instead, we have a reality narrated into existence by prosecutors, those who, in our adversarial system, are tasked with checking individual rights.  Defendants, defense attorneys are silenced.

But that is too trite.  That doesn't even begin to get at what is going on.
More than 90 percent of criminal cases are never tried before a jury. Most people charged with crimes forfeit their constitutional rights and plead guilty

“The truth is that government officials have deliberately engineered the system to assure that the jury trial system established by the Constitution is seldom used,” said Timothy Lynch, director of the criminal justice project at the libertarian Cato Institute. In other words: the system is rigged.
In the race to incarcerate, politicians champion stiff sentences for nearly all crimes, including harsh mandatory minimum sentences and three-strikes laws; the result is a dramatic power shift, from judges to prosecutors.
This isn't just a loss of rights by defendants (and there's some serious weight in that "just"); this is a loss of rights by us all.  A jury trial protects a defendant from the whims of a powerful man.  It also given the people a voice to narrate reality: to determine the truth of facts, to decide whether a crime was committed and how harshly we, as a society, want to punish that crime.

We trust the jury to be our representatives.  We trust the defendant to speak for himself, and we give him a defense attorney so that he can speak the right language, so that his voice can be heard.  We trust the prosecutor to ask questions we ourselves would like to ask, to be our voice in the adversarial play that is acted out in front of the jury. 

I am probably mixing metaphors wildly here, but to make the prosecutor actor and audience and playwright is wildly abusive.  

I have a lot more thinking to do on this issue, including thinking about how all of this fits into the question of incentives, which is what I thought this post was going to be about, hence the title.

Strings Attached: Untangling the Ethics of Incentives, by Ruth W. Grant was reviewed recently in the New York Times. The reviewer, Nancy F. Koehn, writes:
Justified by expediency, plea bargaining “is at the heart of our criminal justice system,” Professor Grant says.

The function of the criminal justice system is “to ascertain the facts according to the evidence and to assign punishment proportionate to the crime for the sake of protecting the public,” she says. A bargaining process, she contends, can’t serve these ends. The cause of truth is failed because a plea bargain decides the question of guilt without adjudicating the evidence. 

In other words, justice won’t take place. “Either the defendant is guilty,” she writes, “but gets off easy by copping a plea, or the defendant is innocent but pleads guilty to avoid the risk of greater punishment.” By undermining the purpose of the justice system, plea bargaining challenges its legitimacy, she argues. 

In one of the book’s most arresting examples, she cites a comparison of workplace attitudes, behavior and standards in a county where judges “routinely punished defendants and attorneys for bringing a case to trial and a county where they did not.” 

Ms. Grant says that in the first county, workplace norms and culture were corrupted by an overarching incentive to plea-bargain and thus avoid trial.  An ethos of laziness prevailed, with defense lawyers aiming to spend as little time as they could with their clients; the administration of justice becoming “a matter of hustling,” she writes.
There is also the problem of the imbalance of power in the offer and acceptance of a plea bargain, which was also addressed by the article (and, I'm told, by the book).  Some serious ethical concerns are raised here, not least of which is the gapingly-wide-open question of whether the defendant has any truly free choice in the matter.

The article and the book also talk about the problem of incentives in the educational setting, focusing particularly on "pay for grades" schemes.  They ask the question, what behavior are we actually incentivising?  Which is a fair and interesting question.

I actually, shockingly I know, find the whole question of incentives even more interesting in the school funding and teacher assessment context.  I saw two fascinating presentations at GSE Research Day last Friday that talked about law and society.  On pointed out that those in policy positions who talk about using market forces to reform schools are not actually using sound economic theories.  Instead, they are using caricatures of economic theory and ignoring the whole wealth of scholarship that nuances and complicates the question of incentives.

The other presentation mentioned (but did not explore in depth because of time) how pre-litigation practices and informal interpretations of law by non-judicial actors become de facto law.  It sounded very similar to the problem of prosecutors raised above.  Basically, we have a small set of powerful people framing reality and deciding what the laws mean. 

Writing that, I realize that it could be an equally apt description of the judicial branch of our government.  The problem, I suppose, is the lack of checks and balances when private actors interpret laws.

Ok, I've reached the end of my immediately pressing thoughts on these issues.  I've written them down, I've shaped them, they've shaped me.  It's time now to talk about them, in my head and with others.  To see where they take me.  I'm curious what you think!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

From MUSE: Habits of Mind

Deborah Meier founded the Mission Hill K-8 School in Boston in 1997.  The school is centered around 5 "Habits of Mind," below.

Habits of Mind

Five Habits of Mind
The Mission Hill Habits of Mind are an approach to both the traditional academic disciplines (math, science, literature and history) and the interdisciplinary stuff of ordinary life. They are what lead us to ask good questions and seek solid answers. They are our definition of a well-educated person.
  1. Evidence: How do we know what’s true and false? What evidence counts? How sure can we be? What makes it credible to us? This includes using the scientific method, and more.
  2. Viewpoint: How else might this look like if we stepped into other shoes? If we were looking at it from a different direction? If we had a different history or expectation? This requires the exercise of informed “empathy” and imagination. It requires flexibility of mind.
  3. Connections/Cause and Effect: Is there a pattern? Have we seen something like this before? What are the possible consequences?
  4. Conjecture: Could it have been otherwise? Supposing that? What if…? This habit requires use of the imagination as well as knowledge of alternative possibilities. It includes the habits described above.
  5. Relevance: Does it matter? Who cares?
None of these five habits stand separately. And the way we use such habits differ if we are studying a mathematical proof, a scientific hypothesis, an historical dispute, a debate over economics, the appreciation of a piece of art, a critique of a novel, the telling of a myth or narrative, or the settling of a playground dispute.
The Mission Hill Habits of Mind are supplemented by Habits of Work: habits of meeting deadlines, being on time, sticking to a task, not getting frustrated quickly, hearing out what others say, and more.
Both sets of “habits” are developed in the process of gathering appropriate knowledge and skill in school and out. The best test is whether students use such habits in the course of their work. And again, not just in school. Knowing “how-to” is no substitute for having good habits. Who cares if you could drive well, if you’re not in the habit of doing so? Who cares if you could be on time, if you never are?

This post was also published on MUSE '13

You guys! T-Rex Teaches Allusions!

Oh, Dinosaur Comics, how I love you.

yes i am quite good at understanding english