Walking Down the Center of the Political Road

Any one who deviates from the Democratic or Republican base isn’t welcome anymore. It used to be that moderates could drive safely, while the extreme ideologues passed them in the breakdown lanes. Lately moderates have been pushed closer and closer to the center line. It feels like there wont be any room left on the major party highway soon.

We all know the Republican party has been pushing out those they deem “RINOs” for some time now. There was the “with us or against us” mentality of the Bush years, which has carried on in GOP rhetoric. Rush Limbaugh and a few other extreme conservative pundits have carried the torch. Republican senators have apologized to Limbaugh for challenging him. Dick Cheney and Colin Powell have had a publicized debate on the direction of the GOP, who belongs and who doesn’t.

And of course there is the internet chatter. Commenters on conservative blogs are quick to judge others who don’t quite fit the mold. Hell, they will turn on their own in a second like sharks at a feeding frenzy. There is strict code of what a Republican should be and if you deviate even an iota you’re fish food.

Tim from Balloon Juice has broken down this phenomenon for us in a handy to read post. Republicans must live up to what Tim calls “The List”

from Balloon Juice:

D.F. must simultaneously oppose abortion (always), support torture, wiretapping and aggressive war, question evolution and doubt global warming, fear muslims, hate taxes and really hate government healthcare. If D.F. fails a single point on the list then he’s clearly a bogus conservative, anathema and unwelcome to taint the pristine boards with his heterodoxy. The question of the day (e.g., did Sarah Palin harm the ticket) usually makes a guest appearance on The List, conveniently anathematizing anyone who disagrees with the putative topic of the thread.

I read a few Conservative blogs and check some to cite a story from time to time. Tim really isn’t far off. Commenters really do bash dissenters. That kind of behavior is not exclusive to Conservative blogs. Pick a topic people are passionate about. Search forums or blog comments on that topic and you will find the same kind of behavior. That doesn’t make it any less unsavory, especially for Republicans who have opinions on abortion, gay marriage, guns, etc., in conflict with the far right.

Unfortunately for old school Republicans much of the list doesn’t always mesh with core Republican values. All the baggage brought by the religious right when the Republicans whored themselves to the rr to pad the ballot box are not the same values men like Goldwater, Buckley, or Reagan cherished. Now the GOP is paying the piper, but unfortunately so are moderate Republicans.

Democrats will often try to claim the high ground on this issue. That they are all inclusive and friendly. Well that’s not quite so. Far left liberals can push those they don’t agree with away just as quickly and easily.

Robin at American Thinker wrote a few days ago about her experience as a Democrat who chose to vote for McCain. She might as well have been a leper the way her liberal friends, husband, and therapist were treating her. While debate and disagreement is healthy, people downright loathed her for her choice, and it is her choice to vote for whoever she wants, to vote for McCain. If McCain had campaigned as the McCain we once knew I may have voted for him too.

In the hey-day of Obama excitement, you really were a brave soul to admit to voting for McCain or once he was elected disagree with him. A youtube video posted by bloggerinterrupted even questioned a black man who said he would vote for McCain, practically saying he HAD to vote Obama just because he was black. Yes shame people over to your point of view.

Of course just because you’re a Democrat that doesn’t make you exempt from the “with us or against us” behavior. Moderate Dems have been pushed around by the party base. Back in February Blue Dogs senators complained that Nancy Pelosi treated them like “mushrooms” and got perturbed when they wanted to do outlandish things like read the legislation they were voting on. I wrote on my distaste for Harry Reid’s remarks on bipartisan efforts in regards to Mr. Obama’s economic stimulus bill. His posturing at the time was just what I never liked about the Bush administration. Now that the Dems were in power they were doing it too.

So where does this leave moderates? Quite possibly taking an exit to a new road. One where moderates can express their views and not be immediately attacked as a “traitor”. One where they can vote for a candidate that espouses all of their core values, not just some candidate all over the political map. Third party country, here we come!

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Gregory House in the Classroom

Over six seasons House has provided us with some of the most unorthodox medical diagnoses seen on television. The title character, Gregory House, has been called the Sherlock Holmes of the medical field. So what can this cynical, curmudgeonly, genius show us about how our classrooms work?

Questionable ethics and drug addiction aside, House’s diagnostic methods demonstrate interesting ways of teaching. House and his team begin by brainstorming possible causes of the patient of the week’s symptoms. House guides the whiteboard sessions, but allows his team to propose their own solutions. This gets the brains of the team flowing.

In a problem solving process, which can be molded to many subjects, the teacher can guide the students in diagnosing the problem. Why do you think the colonists wanted to break away from Britain? This plant is brown and dry. What causes that? The back and forth analyzing the question and possible causes can lead to a lot of unexpected discoveries by the students. They will also feel like that had a real hand in finding out solutions, rather than just being outright told.

House is not afraid to try any method to find the solution. Nor does he or his team fear being wrong. In the classroom, no student should be afraid to be wrong. Being wrong is one of the greatest learning experience one can have. It opens up so many possibilities. A student who has arrived at a wrong conclusion can now explore why they were wrong and how to achieve the correct answer. By trying various methods a student sees there is not always simply one way to solve a problem or always one solution.

House uses a holistic approach to diagnostics. While he does use medical tests, House does not rely on hard data alone. House and his team explore the patients lives, often searching their homes and jobs for clues. House never discounts what sort of psychological factors may be effecting the patient either. This past season, House and team were attempting to diagnose why a patient was suffering from locked-in syndrome after a bicycle accident, leaving the man conscious but completely paralyzed. Tests alone could not explain the syndrome. After consulting the man, through use of a computer interface, the team finds out he last his job and was moonlighting as a janitor where he received cadmium poisoning. Had House and his team fail to dig deeper into the man’s personal life they never would have been able to cure him.

Reformers and students alike can learn from this example. To get a true grasp of a problem it is best to view it from all sides, using hard data and soft. Only then can one get a true picture of the solution.

There you have it. Another life lessons provided by pop culture.

Anyone else have any lessons that can be applied to the classroom or ed reform from pop culture?

Team Duncan – Strategic Planning vs Strategic Thinking

Arne Duncan has been at his post as Education Secretary for several months now. I’ve been following his escapades closely at change.org and my own blog. High off Mr. Obama’s election as President, I was on board Team Duncan when I heard of his appointment. Since then, I’ve taken a different stance. Not quite a 180, but I’ve developed a healthy criticism for Duncan and Obama’s education policies.

Way back in 2007, Robert Evans wrote an article arguing against the strict application of strategic planning for schools. “The Case Against Strategic Planning” was given to me by my father in-law after he attended, of all things, a planning sessions at a local private school. The paper is a great read for anyone involved in education, parents and kids too. I suggest you take some time to read the whole piece.

As I read Evans’s article I began to realize much of what Duncan and Obama have detailed in their “race to the top”, “pillars of reform”, etc. are exactly what should not be happening.

Evans states people often confuse construction of plans with creating an actual strategy. Strategic plans focus on step-by-step problem solving, timetables, measurable results, and fixed outcomes. Plans focus on structure and are not open to flexibility, often avoiding addressing uncertainty and unpredictability.

Just look at Team Duncan’s support for merit pay, longer school days, standardized testing, and charters. Not that I disagree with those things, Duncan and Co. fail to realize all the nuances of each approach and think about how to utilize them best to reach their goals.

Duncan and Obama are ignoring all the flaws of strategic planning. They are basing their policy decisions on predictability, objectivity, and structure.

Predictability:

Every teacher knows that schools are fluid environments, as are the communities they operate in. Political, technological, and social landscapes have changed drastically in even five years. Sometimes in ways we could not have predicted(twitter who knew?). The world will not wait while you debate. A plan cannot become and end in itself. Saying we want to close the bottom 5,000 schools and reopen them in five years might seem like a blueprint to better education, but it cannot be a replacement for addressing the realities facing our schools.

Objectivity:

In crafting a beautiful plan it can be easy to overlook the soft data effecting schools. Hard data is so nice, cut and dry. I love it. Graduation rates, test scores, and the like line everything up so nicely. When we base a merit pay system or funding system like No Child Left Behind, which Duncan and Obama still support, on something like our current testing system important mitigating factors are ignored. Our current testing system does nothing to show a students understanding of the material. Current standardized tests prove nothing except how well a student can memorize and fill in bubbles. True understanding can only be shown from written exams asking for problem solving and analysis. This is something I have argued for time and time again.

I also spoke recently on how one disruptive, which doesn’t necessarily denote misbehaving, student can skew test scores for an entire classroom. Linking merit pay to the current testing system doesn’t take this into account. Nor does it factor in the many other tasks teachers perform such as implementing new technology, mentoring colleagues, or tutoring students for example. Without this soft data one cannot get the complete picture of what a teacher is doing.

Structure:

Schools do not often produce rational outcomes. Anyone with children knows kids are pretty damn irrational at times. I don’t care, toddlers to teenagers just do some stuff that make you slap your forehead. Human judgement can adapt to whatever kids can dish out better than a strict plan. Focusing on the plan as an end all be all puts all the weight on the means totally forgetting the end. Look at the 5,000 schools business again or the D.C. voucher debacle. Duncan is missing the most important questions he should be asking. “Why am I doing this? Is this the best way to pursue my objective?”

I’ve spent all this time criticizing Team Duncan on what they should not be doing, I’m going to switch gears and talk about what they should.

Duncan and Co should employ some strategic thinking. Strategic thinking is in many ways the antithesis of strategic planning. Strategic thinking is flexible, creative, considers hard and soft facts, and collects opinions from teachers and students. An outline, not a blueprint.

Innovations are not something to push out like merit pay, charter schools, or longer schools days. New reforms should be adaptable. We should expect to modify them during implementation, as education is fluid. Static reforms are bound to fail. Like so many things in life, reforms must evolve or be pushed aside.

Simplify plans. Having many standards forces us to spend less time on each one. Testing many standards will bring us down the same road. Leaner standards and adaptable skills allow us to prepare students for anything that is thrown at them.

Strategic thinking leaves room for schools to roll with the punches. Less targets over shorter periods of time keep a school flexible. A school can adapt to new situations, instead of being bound by a five year plan that was out of date in less than five months.

Lastly, strategic thinking takes information from many sources into account. Something as trivial as gossip or hearsay from teachers and students can provide valuable candid insight into what’s happening in the trenches. Students and parents should be surveyed on the status of their school and learning experience. Weak spots can be caught quickly and strengths bolstered. Hey, if parent involvement matters to Obama and Duncan, then it should be encouraged in all forms, especially one as helpful as this.

Flexibility has always been a key to education reform. It is a corner stone of strategic thinking. If we are talking in business terms, as some reformers including myself occasionally do, what business can expect to last long that is not adaptable to change? Remember the key to strategic thinking is in the name. Thinking! We should be thinking, considering, evaluating, reevaluating reforms. Always adapting to changes when applicable. Otherwise we will fall back to more of the same ol strategery.

Collaborative Economy and Education

Earlier this year Newsweek declared “we are all socialists now“. According to a new article at Wired they were right, but not in the way they thought.

You see there is something that has been growing through the internet for some time. Sharing of all sorts of information, cooperation on everything from flikr tags to digging news, and collaborating on open source software are all signs of what Wired calls New Socialism.

from Wired

We’re not talking about your grandfather’s socialism. In fact, there is a long list of past movements this new socialism is not. It is not class warfare. It is not anti-American; indeed, digital socialism may be the newest American innovation. While old-school socialism was an arm of the state, digital socialism is socialism without the state. This new brand of socialism currently operates in the realm of culture and economics, rather than government—for now.

If, as Wired suggests, our economy is moving toward one of collaboration through technology what does that mean for education?

In a recent post, I touched upon how this effects college learning. It almost goes unsaid that k-12 is a different matter.

Classrooms could begin with sharing. Children could journal their experiences learning on the subjects, or share classwork with everyone. Children would have a chance to help fellow students with problem areas and see ways doing accomplishing the work they might not have thought of.

Cooperative work toward a larger goal is an important life lesson. Now this is not the same as working collaboratively. Cooperative work in this context means everyone working individually toward a common goal. Wired gives this example.

from Wired

Not only have amateurs shared more than 3 billion photos on Flickr, but they have tagged them with categories, labels, and keywords. Others in the community cull the pictures into sets. The popularity of Creative Commons licensing means that communally, if not outright communistically, your picture is my picture. Anyone can use a photo, just as a communard might use the community wheelbarrow. I don’t have to shoot yet another photo of the Eiffel Tower, since the community can provide a better one than I can take myself.

Now picture a class doing a unit on the Civil War. Everyone is researching a topic on their own, but their goal is to grasp the larger picture of the whole conflict, being as in-depth or broad as the teacher wishes. Students with overlapping topics can share information, getting a different perspective on their individual topics. The students could then produce a wiki on the project, which could be used by each student to answer questions about the Civil War.

Working in groups is a useful task that New Socialism supports. Just look at how collaborative efforts have revolutionized software. Apache Web software is a prime example of collaborative open source success. When open source developers were asked what their prime motivation for coding open source most answered, to learn and develop new skills.”

Working toward a collective goal is the foundation of nearly all businesses. Whether your selling flowers, building houses, or managing payroll all employees are working to toward the same goal. Many times this work is done collectively. Working together in groups is essential for students. In life we must learn to work with others, even if we aren’t face to face with our collaborators. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses they bring to a group. The key is how to properly highlight those strengths and minimize those weaknesses to arrive at the best end result. Children who learn these skills early will be far ahead of the game in school and in the global economy.

Memorial Day

To those who fought
To those who died
To those who are still fighting

As one veteran said today of his experience, “The war is never over. It just keeps on going.”

…One day is not enough.

Colin Powell Still Republican and More

Colin Powell appeared on Face the Nation this morning. Powell addressed many issues of the day including the future of the GOP, torture, and Gitmo. I’d like to draw attention to his comments on the GOP and Gitmo.

You may remember about two weeks ago Dick Cheney said, on Face the Nation, that Colin Powell had already left the Republican Party. Cheney said Powell’s endorsement of Mr. Obama in the election showed his true side.. “I assumed that that is some indication of his loyalty and his interest,” Cheney said. Cheney also commented that Rush Limbaugh is a better representation of the Republican Party than Powell.

Well until Powell comes out and says he switches parties then he’s still a Republican.

from CBS

“I am still a Republican. I’d like to point out that in the course of my 50 years of voting for presidents, I have voted for the person I thought was best qualified at that time to lead the nation. Last year I thought it was President-now Barack Obama,” Powell said.

Powell shows yet again why I respect him a great deal. He votes his conscious, not party lines. Shouldn’t that be what America is about? The best person for the job? Powell gets it. These words mean a great deal to moderates out there tired of their parties being hi-jacked by extremist nut-jobs. Do the research. Vote for you believe will do the best job, regardless of party lines.

Powell chastised President Obama’s handling of Guantanamo.

from CBS

“I think President Obama didn’t handle it very well by going up to the Congress and asking for $80 million without a plan. And by, frankly, giving enough time to opponents of it to marshal their forces as to why we shouldn’t do this,”

Powell said he has told President Obama all of his concerns and worries that the president gave his opponents too much time to react to the plan. He hopes that the politicizing of the decision will start to die down.

Acording to Powell, Bush wanted to close Gitmo during his presidency. Bush was unable to close the deal on how to properly execute the closure, something Obama is struggling with now. Powell uses this as a jumping point to smash Cheney again.

from CBS

“Mr. Cheney is not only disagreeing with President Obama’s policy. He’s disagreeing with President Bush’s policy. President Bush stated repeatedly to international audiences and to the country that he wanted to close Guantanamo. The problem he had was he couldn’t get all the pieces together,” Powell said.

That wraps a great interview from a personal favorite of mine. Any thoughts on the GOP, party politics, Gitmo, Powell, or anything else?

Watch CBS Videos Online

Independents Unite!

Independents have probably never had a better time for a power grab. Poli-Tea Party has posted an article from a Green Party activist. Maryrose Asher advocates that now is the time for like minded progressives to break from the Democrats and unite behind an independent candidate.

from OpEdNews via Poli-Tea Party:

The only way the progressive movement is going to change the political system is by uniting behind a candidate who exemplifies the passion and dedication for social justice issues, not just by words but by deeds. We need activists who have been on the front lines carrying protest signs, marching in the streets, attending organizing meetings, facing arrest, and otherwise showing by example what we should all be doing . . . The progressive movement can no longer sell its soul and support the Democratic Party as they have done in the past. Neither of the two mainstream political parties represents the working class and none of the third parties have the money to run a successful candidate or the ability to unite the progressive movement under one umbrella. Therefore, the progressive movement must get behind individuals in their community who are part of the movement and who are willing to run for local office. Citizen candidates may not win and may in fact be spoilers against a “lesser of two evils” candidate, but this should not be the focus and certainly of no concern. The primary goal would be to break the back of this corrupt, corporate-owned political system and to willingly choose not to vote for either “head” of this two-headed monster.

Is this a sign of the extremes in each party breaking off on their own? We may already be seeing that in the Republican party, why shouldn’t we expect something similar in the Democratic party.

I have read many articles about how the far-left is becoming disillusioned with the Obama administration, as I’m sure you all have too. If there was any time for third parties of similar interest to unite and make a good run at some national seats, its 2010. 2010 is shaping up to be an interesting election.