Teaching Shakespeare

April 29, 2015

Shakespeare can be taught.  Students don’t even have to know how to read to become familiar with the sound and cadence of Shakespeare’s language.  Watch this video of Brian Cox teaching a friend’s toddler to recite a portion of the “To be, or not to be…” soliloquy.

Meaning and understanding comes later, but familiarity almost certainly makes that easier.  And to grasp the meaning, it would help if only we had more teachers follow the example of Geoffrey Tennant in the great Canadian TV series, Slings and Arrows, and declare: “So, let’s get rid of the curriculum and I think we should just f*ck around with some texts.”  I’ve experienced many an English teacher drain  all of the joy and depth from Shakespeare by mechanically having the class take turns reading passages while ticking off what students need to know for the AP exam.

Watch Geoffrey motivate an accountant from the plastics firm to do a better reading of Macbeth’s “Tomorrow” soliloquy:

School Choice Myths in Perspective

April 28, 2015


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Check out the trippy cover on this month’s OCPA Perspective – and, if you have any extra time when you’re done admiring it, spare a minute to read the cover story, too:

For thirteen years, I’ve been a researcher in the school choice movement, and from day one the most important part of the job has been mythbusting. Ask any other researcher in this field and he’ll say the same. There’s no other issue in American politics where one side has built its case so thoroughly upon untrue factual statements. It seems like no media story on this topic can get by without repeating these myths as facts. It never stops.

Here are a few of the more important myths, drawn from recent debates in Oklahoma…

It’s a shame we still have to spend so much time mythbusting:

There’s so much we still don’t know about education. I’d love it if we researchers could focus our energy on uncovering the facts we don’t yet have. What factors are most important in a high quality teacher? To what extent does a school’s institutional culture make a difference? What policy and social conditions are needed to support more robust creation of new schools? Why do we see some evidence that there may be a tradeoff between good academic outcomes and good moral character outcomes, when we would expect the two to be aligned?

What we still don’t know about education is a big deal. But our bigger problem is what we think we know that isn’t so.

1921 application form for the knuckle-dragging racists who helped bring you Blaine Amendments

April 22, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

HT: Slate

Gosh if the ends didn’t justify the means, K-12 reactionaries of today might feel uncomfortable making use of discriminatory state constitutional provisions drafted by overtly racist and intolerant groups during a shameful wave of half-witted xenophobia.

Jim Ardis for the Higgy

April 14, 2015

I nominate Jim Ardis for “The Higgy.” Jim Ardis has been the mayor of Peoria, IL since 2005.  A year ago Jon Daniel created a parody Twitter account, @peoriamayor, mocking the mayor with juvenile humor suggesting that the mayor had a penchant for drugs, liquor, and prostitutes.  The mayor didn’t appreciate the humor (or the 1st Amendment).  The Chicago Tribune describes what happened next:

Within two days of the account’s creation, the city manager sent an email to Sam Rivera, the city’s chief information officer, asking for his help in getting the account taken down.

“Someone is using the Mayor’s likeness in a twitter account,” Urich wrote in a March 11 e-mail. “It’s not him. @Peoriamayor. Can you work to get it shut down today?”

Less than an hour later, Urich turned to Police Chief Steve Settingsgaard and asked him to have a detective investigate the identity of the account’s creator. Settingsgaard quickly assigned the case to Det. James Feehan, a member of the department’s computer crimes unit. By 11 a.m. – about four hours after Urich first contacted the department – Feehan expressed doubts about whether any crime had been committed.

“I looked at the comments and photographs posted by the suspect. Nothing contained within amounts to criminal violations,” Feehan wrote in an email to his chief. “However, there are tweets posted by the individual which amount to defamation. Without a subpoena issued to Twitter to obtain the IP address of the account creator, there is not much else we can do. I did send Twitter the report of the impersonating account and requested it be removed asap.”

Settingsgaard passed the detective’s findings along to the mayor, though he doubted whether Ardis could meet the legal threshold for a defamation suit.

“This phony Twitter account does not constitute a criminal violation in that no threats are made,” the chief wrote. “I’m not sure if it would support a civil suit for defamation of character. I’m not an expert in the civil arena but my recollection is that public officials have very limited protection from defamation.”

Ardis was undeterred. He sent an email the next day to Urich, Rivera and Settingsgaard, urging them to get the account taken down.

“Any chance we can put a sense (of) urgency on this?” Ardis asked.

Urich echoed his boss’ wishes in a reply sent three minutes later.

“Quickly please,” he wrote.

Feehan and Rivera, however, already had separately reported the fake account to Twitter, which allows for parody accounts as long as they’re labeled as such.

In the meantime, Feehan continued to research the law regarding impersonation and came across a new state statute that prohibits people from falsely identifying themselves as public officials. Though it was only a misdemeanor crime, it would give the department the legal muscle it needed to force Twitter’s cooperation in shuttering the account.

If Ardis wanted to prosecute, they would proceed with taking a formal complaint.

“i absolutely will prosecute,” Ardis wrote in an email to Settingsgaard. “bring it on. thanks chief.”

Ardis’ decision allowed police to subpoena Twitter, which turned over the IP address used to access the account and temporarily suspended the account. With that information secured, the department subpoenaed Comcast for the account holder’s name and address.

On April 15 – more than three weeks after the @peoriamayor account was suspended – Peoria police raided the home where Daniel lived. Four officers tore the house apart, as records show they searched for any and all electronics capable of sending the offensive tweets. The search warrant also allowed officers to scour the house for drugs, as they believed “cocaine, heroin, (or) drug paraphernalia” could be present in the home because one of the tweets included a picture of a “white powdery substance” being cut by a razor blade.

In the end, police confiscated four computers, four iPhones, an iPad and two Xboxes belonging to several people who lived at the house. They also found a “broken black ashtray with green seedy substance” and a “large gold gift bag with five sandwich bags containing a green leafy substance,” according to police reports. Tests showed the seedy substance was marijuana, officials said.

Authorities charged Jacob Elliott, whose name was on the home’s Comcast account, with possession of marijuana. His case is pending.

Daniel, who was not home during the raid, showed up at the police station later that evening and declined to answer questions without a lawyer present. He later acknowledged he created the Twitter account, but he was never arrested….

Three days after the raid, with the public backlash gearing up, the would-be case against Daniel unraveled completely. In an email sent to Ardis and Urich entitled “Twitter problem,” Settingsgaard broke the news to his bosses.

“Det Feehan is going to review with (State’s Attorney Jerry) Brady on Monday but there may be an internet exception to the impersonating statute,” he wrote. “If it is exempt, everyone missed it from the investigators to the SAO (the state’s attorney’s office) and the judges.”

There are so many things wrong with this story that it’s hard to know where to begin.  You know what, I’m not even going to try to list what is wrong with what Ardis and other city employees did other than to emphasize that they ended up using a SWAT team to raid someone’s house over Constitutionally protected free speech on the pretext that it was a misdemeanor violation for impersonating a public official when it turns out that the statute actually exempts the internet from such violations (leaving aside the 1st Amendment stuff).

I think this qualifies Ardis for “The Higgy.”  As the award’s criteria state: “‘The Higgy’ will not identify the worst person in the world, just as ‘The Al’ does not recognize the best.  Instead, ‘The Higgy’ will highlight individuals whose arrogant delusions of shaping the world to meet their own will outweigh the positive qualities they possess.”  Jim Ardis is not the worst person in the world.  I’m sure he loves his family and (in the spirit of Al Copeland) the O’Leary’s Restaurant he used to own may serve a delicious fried chicken (even if it is only as chicken tenders.)

Despite these possible positive qualities, Ardis is still a tyrant who chips away at our liberty by using the authority of the government to persecute people who offend him.  You might even call him a Petty Little Dictator.

The delicious justice is that Ardis’ thuggery has not been effective.  When he once was being mocked by a single, obscure parody account on Twitter, there are now more than a dozen.  And Jon Daniel has filed a civil suit seeking damages.

The High School Musical Attracts a Broader Audience

April 6, 2015

High school musicals used to attract parents and friends of the cast and crew, but as the Wall Street Journal tells us, the audience has expanded.  The entire article is worth reading, but here is a taste:

With high-school musical season under way, moms and dads are cheering for their favorite Pippins, Annies and Tevyes in auditoriums across the country.

Buried in the crowd, trying to blend in, is a different sort: the adult with no connection to the school whatsoever….

Long a springtime ritual, the high-school musical has never been known widely as must-see entertainment. But high-school shows have become increasingly elaborate—with Broadway-worthy sets, local competitions for best actor and actress and R-rated choices like “Rent.” Fans seek out the student performances for cheap entertainment or a chance to see a musical that otherwise might not be performed locally. Some even follow the teenage thespians as though they were A-list stars….

How good are these shows?

It doesn’t really matter, said Scott Delman, a tough critic in his normal life. He has won four Tony Awards for producing such Broadway hits as “The Book of Mormon” and “Death of a Salesman” and sometimes attends secondary-school interpretations with business associates who want to show off a son or daughter. When he goes to a high-school show, “I don’t even focus on the quality,” he said. “I am swept away by the energy and the enthusiasm.” Occasionally he congratulates performers after a show, disclosing his day job so they know it is more than just a parent’s biased view.

So, don’t worry if you don’t know anyone in the upcoming Fayetteville High School production of Little Shop of Horrors.  Just go to enjoy fun and reasonably priced entertainment.

It’s Time for “The Higgy”

April 3, 2015

William Higginbotham

It is time once gain to solicit nominations for the William Higinbotham Inhumanitarian Award.  Below I reproduce portions of the first announcement of “The Higgy” in 2012, so you have an understanding of the historic significance and criteria for this dishonor.


As someone who was recognized in 2006 as Time Magazine’s Man of the Year, I know a lot about the importance of awards highlighting people of significant accomplishment.  Here on JPGB we have the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award, but I’ve noticed that “The Al” only recognizes people of positive accomplishment.  As Time Magazine has understood in naming Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Ayatullah Khomeini as Persons of the Year, accomplishments can be negative as well as positive.

(Then again, Time has also recognized some amazing individuals as Person of the Year, including Endangered Earth, The Computer, Twenty-Five and Under, and The Peacemakers, so I’m not sure we should be paying so much attention to what a soon-to-be-defunct magazine does.  But that’s a topic for another day when we want to talk about how schools are more likely to be named after manatees than George Washington.)

Where were we?  Oh yes.  It is important to recognize negative as well as positive accomplishment.  So I introduce “The Higgy,” an award named after William Higinbotham, as the mirror award to our well-established “Al.”

Just as Al Copeland was not without serious flaws as a person, William Higinbotham was not without his virtues.  Higinbotham did, after all  develop the first video game.  But Higinbotham dismissed the importance of that accomplishment and instead chose to be an arrogant [jerk] by claiming that his true accomplishment was in helping found the Federation of American Scientists and working for the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons.  I highly doubt that the Federation or Higinbotham did a single thing that actually advanced nonproliferation, but they sure were smug about it…

I suspect that Al Copeland, by contrast, understood that he was a royal jerk.  And he also understood that developing a chain of spicy chicken restaurants really does improve the human condition.  Higinbotham’s failing was in mistaking self-righteous proclamations for actually making people’s lives better in a way that video games really do improve the human condition.

So, “The Higgy” will not identify the worst person in the world, just as “The Al” does not recognize the best.  Instead, “The Higgy” will highlight individuals whose arrogant delusions of shaping the world to meet their own will outweigh the positive qualities they possess.

We will invite nominations for “The Higgy” in late March and will announce the winner, appropriately enough, on April 15.  Thanks to Greg for his suggestions in developing “The Higgy.”

Research Finds: Learning Styles are Bunk

April 3, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Another widely held belief bites the dust when put to the test.


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