Friday, August 21, 2009

Bettering Public Systems?

As I gear up to enter the New York City public school system, I'm oft taken aback by just how damn big and political it is, and the problems that are engendered from its failures in bureaucracy. It's a mess in many ways, although there are programs and policies in place in a solid attempt to sweep it together more cogently. I'm not a big proponent of standardized testing, for example, but I recognize the need for quantifiable benchmarks and accountability. I also think Bloomberg's "mayoral control" is a positive thing for the educational system, in that it is diminishing the ineffective squabble of disparate political factions and special interests and giving the educational system a system-wide direction and agenda.

The biggest problem I've noticed has been the sizable rifts that can exist between administration and teachers, or between teachers and "the system" et al. There is often this distrust that exists, as if they were not all striving to achieve what is best for the students. I just don't get it. I understand that some administrators, like those in any workplace, are just not good people nor effective managers. But ultimately, professional goals should be shared. Teachers, administration, and politicians are striving to educate children and support their competitiveness in a global economy.

There are lots of problems, but this is a microcosm of the problems that exist in society as a whole. And as I've argued on my blog in the past that no matter what one thinks of "the system", it is much more productive to attempt to work within existing structures to retrofit and enhance them, rather than simply rail against them and seek methods of undermining them. I simply don't find it productive, as a teacher, to complain endlessly about the iniquities of my administrators and about the school system. I want to change it, starting with my classroom, extending to my school, and eventually, to the school system and to the nation as a whole. And the most effective way to change that is by embodying the change that I want to see.

On a different tack, I think that many educators--and administrators--get too caught up in these fluffy ideals of supporting, loving, and nurturing children. That's all very important, of course, in a child's development. But what is more important in an educational system is that we are actually giving children the tools and capabilities to succeed in the real world, not just pats on the back. And running an educational system closer to a business, with strong accountability, high expectations, and no excuses for failure--rather than like a big, messy, muddled bureaucratic public service--will be better for children. Students want to be challenged. They want structure. They want to succeed. We need to give them what they need to excel, not just what they need to get by.

Anyway, I really just wanted to get this off my chest, because it's been frustrating me. I think many people that go into education have this rosy view of the way things should be, and forget the human reality of any workplace. Things are never perfect. You have to earn your stripes. You have to work hard and make networks and establish your integrity and reputation, and then you can start to talk about changing the system. In the meantime, the important thing is being the best teacher you can be, despite the system, despite the school, despite the students, and despite yourself.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Life is a beach

Now that summer is in full swing and both my boys are home all day, we've been trying to find rhythm and variety of things to do. This may be why you haven't heard from me much. It's hard to have enough clarity to write in between SpongeBob, video games and being outside.

Some of the things we've been doing this summer include swimming lessons (Thanks Lisa), the Ventura Aquatic Center, weekly movies with the Regal Cinemas' Family Film Festival, brushing up on our video game skills, going to the library, reading and going to the beach.

Of these, I think our favorite has been going to the beach. It just doesn't get any better than packing a lunch, stretching out on the beach and playing in the sand and the surf.

We pack up the beach blanket, sand toys, towels, beach chairs, a good book and the backpack cooler with food and drinks and head out for the day. It doesn't matter how long we've been there, we're never quite ready to pack up and go home.

Sometimes we go with friends, sometimes it's just me and the boys, but we never have a bad time. Gabe has started playing in the waves more and is showing an interest in bodyboarding. Morgan is content in digging big holes and jumping in and out of them. When it comes to the water, he mostly likes to chase the waves.

For me, I just like walking on the sand and watching my kids and the waves. No matter my worries or concerns, they all seem to melt away knowing that there are much bigger things in life than my problems. It helps me put life in perspective. For me, going to the beach is a healing experience.

Everyone is happy to be there. Everyone is having fun. It's a joy to see my children discover crabs, starfish and sea anemones; seek sand dollars; and create sculptures with sand and seaweed.

The entire experience feeds their imaginations. Mogan likes to play Godzilla climbing out of the water and smashing the sand city he's built.

It gives them a sense of discovery, and wears them out. They come home calm and collected, a little tired, but very content.

I count my blessing that I live close to the beach. That I have the opportunity to wash away my trouble in the sand and sea, and that I can spend this golden summer with my two beautiful sunshine boys!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ashley's Picture of the day 7/23/09 # 2

An Angel Statue in the gift shop of the San Fernando Mission.

Ashley's Picture of the day 7/23/09

A flower and park bench next to the Liberty Bell

a realization

I was sitting in the booth waiting to run the show, I was passing the time by watching Terminator 2 and it reminded me of when I was about 8 years old. I was in Canada and the people living across the street from us were very good friends of our family. There was an older couple Mr and Mrs. Brennick and all the children have grown up but there son Greg lived with them. The main attribute about him I remember and just realized it never phased me was Greg had one leg, he was in a car accident and had to have it amputated just below the knee. he had a Prosthetic leg and walked with a limp, but Even with his disability he worked for the SPCA. He was such a kind person he would take my brother and I out and meet different people that he met through his job. One person kept Tigers and lions (yes in Canada) also we saw a chinchilla farm. Even being much older then me we still hung out together, and what I remember most was sitting in his room and watching moves like the Terminator. Greg passed away on mothers day this year, and it finally hit me today that he is gone and that I miss him a lot. Strange how something as simple as a film can do that. With that realization, it is amazing how many people touch our lives even in the smallest of ways can still be powerful. Greg Brennick will be missed.

I know this is on the somber side but I felt like sharing, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

For law students taking the bar in 2010

This from the Alliance for Legal Education:

We wanted to give you an update on the activities of the Alliance for Legal Education on behalf of law students who are preparing for the bar examination.

Our legislative initiative, to allow bar exam expenses to be eligible for the federal student loan programs, was under consideration for inclusion in HR 1777, the Higher Education Technical Corrections Bill. Although the measure was not included in the final version of the bill that was signed into law by President Obama, there was no known opposition to the initiative and we are researching opportunities to move this issue forward in future legislation.

We strongly believe that this issue remains important and timely. Financial markets remain in flux, making this measure a vitally important one for many students.

The Alliance will continue to update you on our progress in the coming weeks as needed. In the meantime, we appreciate your support and interest in this legislative initiative.

International Criminal Court web conference, today, 1 pm ET

Hosted by ENOUGH Project policy analyst Colin Thomas-Jensen. Tune in here to join.

Following the Fumo story?

He was only sentenced to 55 months because of his public service record. It should have been 10 years, and this is closer to 5. News in The Legal Intelligencer and Philadelphia Inquirer.

Pondering this. You can have a reduced sentence if you're in politics? ... ? ... We just ... sentence our politicians less? Because they're ... ?

I don't understand.

One door closes

Been kind of bummed this week. I've been trying to crank out a scholarship application after work, but ... well, I guess I've been deluding myself. It required making a 4-minute film in about a week, and pulling together all the moving pieces definitely takes more than 7 days of work. At least for the movies I create. So I scrambled for many hours and missed the deadline, and am disheartened because I've been lugging myself into work tired and giving up all of my free time.

Then this morning I get e-mails from our public interest law counselor and my good friend, Emily. Another scholarship contest. A bigger prize. For graduates only, which means I don't have to stress the application until next year.

Thanks for helping me keep my chin up, Ems. Little actions like these -- it's just beautiful having friends. You guys keep me going, and have no idea how much I appreciate it.

NOTE: If you know any Penn grads in public interest law now who might want to apply, let me know & I'll forward you the info.