Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Won't somebody please OUR SCHOOLS ARE FAILING

Have I mentioned my theory that the constant repetition of the words "failing schools" is a conspiracy by an evil subset of American society that believes that protecting private property rights is the first and last legitimate function of government in order to undermine what is the most public of our public institutions? (This sentence is unwieldy, but I like it.)

Recently Matt Yglesias, who is definitely on the school reform bandwagon but not part of the conspiracy, had a thoughtful post on why this isn't a cut and dried issue. Basically, if you're too lazy to read the whole thing, it boils down to this:
Like the bulk of the center-left “reform” wing of the Democratic Party, I’m very concerned about the plight of low-income black and Latino students in large urban school districts. But it’s important to recall that most American children aren’t poor, most American schools aren’t in large urban districts, and that in a very large country we actually have all kinds of different school systems.
I'll readily admit that a lot of my own instincts on the public school system are based on the exactly one school district that I have any significant experience with, and from the perspective of my extremely middle class and not particularly challenging-to-educate childhood. The weird thing is, I think my very middle American (or ok, Californian) perspective is kind of under represented in the media. It seems like you've got a lot of people, like Matt Yglesias, who grew up in the big cities on the east coast, mostly going to private schools...or whatever the heck Stuyvesant is in New York. I'm not sure how well they understand what it's like to come from a place where schools are intimately interlinked with neighborhoods; what it's like to have a mental map of your hometown that's divided up by which kids go to which elementary school.  In the context of my childhood, concepts like school choice seem sort of bizarre and the idea of closing a "failing" school is downright traumatic. How do you close a school that's synonymous with the community it's in? And don't they understand just how much community stands to be lost if schools are reformed to the point of being unrecognizable?

Of course, I also shouldn't let my own narrow experience prejudice me against reforms that may really genuinely be needed in some places...or that could even have been extremely helpful to a kid who sat in the exact same classrooms as me but got less out of it. But I dunno...I guess it all just circles back to where I ended up the last time I tried to write about this. The rhetoric against public schools really bothers me. Universal public education is one of the most successful endeavors this country has ever attempted...not a failure. Equality of opportunity obviously has a long way to come, and I understand why people expect the school system to be the vehicle to get us there (because honestly, what else even has a chance?) but that only counts as failing if  everything in the entire history of mankind ever counts as failing. Let's not be too eager to scrap a mostly working system in order to try out some ideas that we think might help us achieve a goal we hope is attainable.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Gender Neutral

This is a quilt I'm finishing up for some friends who just had a baby, and who decided to be all contrarian-like and not find out the gender beforehand. Trying to make something for a baby not knowing if it's going to be a girl or a boy is an interesting exercise, because it basically brings you face to face with the fact that in our culture, too pink is a much bigger sin than too blue. And it really shouldn't be like that. I'm not sure I can picture it ever not being that way...a world in which you're just as likely to see a little boy with an older sister dressed in this as a hand-me-down as a little girl dressed in this...but I'm starting to accept the limits of my own vision a little more. Maybe things will change, and my vision will just have to catch up.

In the meantime, I'm pretty happy with the way this quilt turned out, and I like the pink in it even though I've always been a little anti-pink personally (just an aesthetic choice or part of never wanting to be too girly?...I'll never know). And it turns out it will be for a little boy. So there you go.

This is cool.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

If you build it, they will come.

I've spent the last hour or so excited about this site, because of this article, which I followed the link from this blog to find. My excitement is probably kind of misplaced at the moment, since I'm not exactly living in the land of the early adopters anymore, but I decided not to let that stop me. I am now one of 5 users of the neighborgoods sharing system in Merced. If you want my folding chairs, let me know. (The term "users" being taken very loosely far as I can tell, nobody has actually borrowed anything from anybody yet. But they might! Any second now!)

I think the overlap between frugality and environmentalism is something that deserves a lot more focus...if for no other reason than because it's the main area of environmentalism available to me for the time being. It also helps lift all of this crazy hippie granola stuff away from it's counter culture baggage and place it in a context of the way people have been living since forever. There's something wrong with wastefulness. I don't care if you arrive at that decision from a financial point of view, an environmental one, a religious one or a philosophical one...I think it's just kind of fundamental. A lot of the things that I'm hoping to do living here in Merced are about avoiding waste. The goal is to live cheaply, make as much use of our yard as possible, and avoid accumulating stuff we don't need. One thing that would be fantastic is if we didn't have to buy every single gardening tool we need new...but the four other users in the area don't look like they're going to save us from that. It's cool to think that that might be the future though.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Week Three

So here's my conundrum...I really only have time to write a couple of posts a week, generally. So if I write about every episode of Game of Thrones, this blog is very quickly going to become at least 50% Game of Thrones themed, which isn't really my intention. On the other hand though, why not write a post? Trying to have an opinion about a TV show is mind bogglingly less intimidating, and thus easier to write, than trying to tackle the history of everything important ever. (Which, of course, is what I do the rest of the time).

I think the two most significant moments in this week's episode were Tyrion Lannister explaining his reservations about the Night's Watch, and Arya questioning how her father could let Sansa marry someone as obviously hideous as Joffrey. They're significant because they each show the moral complexity of the setting. The Starks' stand for everything that is good and noble and strong, but Uncle Benjen hunts down and kills wildlings just because they were unlucky enough to be born on the wrong side of a wall, and even before the shit hits the fan there's not much father-of-the-year Ned can do to protect his daughter from a life of misery. I think that setting is important to remember when you start considering the less "good" characters...characters like Jaime Lannister, who might be becoming my favorite. I think maybe the wry & sarcastic Lannisters are transferring better to the screen than the strong silent type can only shoot a scene of a guy thinking things stoically so well. Or maybe I just always like slightly evil characters better. But in any case, I think the most interesting aspects of this series are the way it deals with characters coping in a world in which "good" is extremely elusive.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

And so it ends, except not really.

So supposedly Osama bin Laden is dead? And the internet is giving a demonstration on what happens when millions of people all try to find the same information all at once.

Don't take this as any kind of second guessing that this is a good outcome, but there is a part of me that feels like it's just fundamentally ghoulish to celebrate any human being's death. And a slightly more logical part of me that sees danger in the personalization of international conflicts...tomorrow morning the world will still be full of people who feel cheated by the last 300 years of history, and a few that think they see ways of making history that would somehow even the score. Killing one person has remarkably little to do with that. But then there's the less noble part of me that can't avoid thinking about the political significance of this...and is it really so un-noble to hope that maybe this will help end an era in American politics that has been pretty terrifying to watch (nationwide constituencies for torture, for indefinite detention, for invading any country that looks at us funny)? And if it's not un-noble, is it even realistic? What are the honest chances that the end result of this is going to be humility?

Anyways, I don't really have any answers. The New York Times story finally loaded, and it turns out it doesn't really have any more information either. I guess it would be good to have cable, since then I could watch Obama's speech live, but I'll have to wait. I'm not really sure I'd want to anyways.