Friday, January 29, 2010

Dear Diary

I haven't been writing here much, because I'm working hard on my book. Until last week, I was working TWTh afternoons at my son's school, and after the holidays, I'd started feeling like I won't have enough time to finish everything when I need to. (May would be good. I start back to teaching in August, and there's lots going on in the summer.) Last Tuesday was my last day teaching at his school. (They needed my tuition money, and I needed my time.)

So now I have my full days free to work on the book. The hardest thing will be to write my own parts of it. I haven't really done that this week, but I have:
  • Sent out a proposal to New Press
  • Sent out a proposal to AK Peters
  • Edited a chapter on gifted kids
  • Edit another chapter (I'd been procrastinating on this one, so, yeay for me)
  • Emailed various authors about various details
  • Sent a progress report to all 15 authors
  • Dealt with childcare so I can go to 3 different events related to my work
  • Read The Calculus of Friendship, by Steven Strogatz, which was excellent

So I've accomplished something substantial this week. But it was pretty uneven. I got the first 3 things almost done on Monday, and finished them up on Tuesday. Then on Tuesday night I had trouble sleeping (a common problem for me), so on Wednesday, I was a bit groggy. That's the day I read the book. I did nothing for my book that day. I bit my nails because I wanted to be getting something done, but I couldn't motivate myself.

Then we had an intense - and good - meeting at my son's school on Wednesday evening, and maybe that was the kick I needed. I got the second edit on the gifted chapter done yesterday, along with editing that other chapter. Today I won't get much done. I've been jumping up and down because I'm too excited about everything that's happening. (I'm avoiding telling a story I'd like to tell, so as not to jinx it. More details later.)

Tonight I get to go see Paul Giganti's Math Festival in Albany. Tomorrow I get to go to a Math Circle workshop for teachers. Sunday I get to hang out with my son. I am so lucky to be living my life.

So this is the way I work - big push on 3 days, nail-biting procrastination on one day, excited rambles on the 5th day. If I can get 3 good days of work each week, I think I can do this. Maybe I can find a way to get out of that useless feeling day. When I start writing more, I know I'll be biting my nails over that. Next Wednesday I have a dentist appointment - I figured Wednesday was the perfect day for it.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Howard Zinn Died Yesterday of a Heart Attack

He was 87, and still active. He will be sorely missed.

I first read his People's History of the U.S. while visiting friends in New York City. I sat for hours in a cramped apartment, reading that book, when a more sensible tourist would have been out exploring. I have wished for a People's History of the World, and haven't found one.

Owen Thomas, at Open a Vein, pointed me to some fascinating recollections from Harvey Wasserman, How the great Howard Zinn made all our lives better. It's eery to read a eulogy before you know the person has died.

Most of the news reports say that he died in Santa Monica while traveling, and don't mention the purpose of his trip. I had a hunch he was traveling for a reason, so I kept searching, and found a notice of an event he was scheduled to speak at in Santa Monica next week, promoting his new documentary, The People Speak.

As I looked for more detailed reports, I turned to the NY Times, which usually has more in-depth coverage than smaller papers. This is the first time I've seen its nasty habit of slanting the news up close. Compare this respectful account of his life (from a source in Boston, his hometown) to the NY Times account, sprinkled 'liberally' with the word leftist.

I hope Zinn, who is noted for his sense of humor, would chuckle at my Onion-style imaginary headline: In Anti-war Publicity Stunt, Zinn Dies While Obama Gives Sate of the Union Address

Zinn has died, long live activism. Or, as they said in Nicaragua, Presente!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Scams - I had no idea...

Read this, about 'skimmers', that get your ATM card info. Scary!

Friday, January 15, 2010

TSA: Security State

The rest of this post, by Timothy Burke, is here:

There have been numerous reported episodes over the last seven years of children and babies being patted down, questioned, or otherwise subjected to strenuous screening because they have the same name as someone on the watch list. The case reported by the Times is just the latest.

I’m in the camp of people who think most of what the TSA does is meaningless “security theater” that can and has slowly eroded our autonomy as human beings. Leave that larger debate aside for a moment. A different kind of point arises in this case: if a government agency is going to engage the public through its web site, and questions about the accuracy or truthfulness of what it says to the public arise, it should never be permissible to refuse to respond directly to questions. If the New York Times is running a front-page story about a specific case that demonstrates that what the agency says is a weasel-worded evasion at best, there should be a standing directive that comes straight from the office of the Presidency that an agency is required to respond in specific terms to the specific question.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Math Poem Over Here?

Well, I just wasn't comfortable posting it on my other blog, and we're talking about math poems, and I do want to share with anyone who'd like to see it, so... here it is...

Desire In a Math Class

My lover

Sat in the back of my classroom.

“My friend, who’s visiting from New York,

Wanted to join us today,” I say to the class.

Her visit has distracted me

From my usual preparations,

But I know this stuff, and these students,

And her presence electrifies me.

My hands shape ideas more fully,

My eyes look into students’ more carefully.

(Avoiding hers, and too much desire?)

The calculus is alive.

I ask, “Why do we set this equal to zero?”

Rebecca, usually shy, tells us,

“To find the highest point, where the slope is zero...”

And finishes with her hands shaping the idea.

After class is over and students are gone

She tells me how good it was to watch.

She, the playwright, saw drama in my classroom.

“They so wanted to get it.”

At first I am shocked by how good I was,

Much better than usual.

Then I blush, hoping my students

Never know quite why...

April 14, 2001

Sue VanHattum

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Deborah Meier on Education

At Bridging Differences, Deborah Meier wrote a post titled Keep Your Eyes on the Money. Here's the bit I want to follow:

My friend Vito Perrone in the closing essay of Roots of Open Education in America (1976) reminded us that,100 years earlier, most Americans dropped out of school before 5th grade. In the Dakotas, half didn't even make it to 2nd grade and only 1 percent completed high school. Nationwide, people of color couldn't even start school! Perrone also reminded us (as you do, Diane) that the fight between centralization and decentralization goes way back, as do the arguments for and against field trips, lockstep curriculum, traditional readers, rote learning, and spelling bees. Small vs. large schools, ideas vs. skills vs. facts, and academia vs. vocationalism have had proponents and opponents over and over. But the context has changed—in 1820, most political decisions occurred close to home.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

What has Obama done in his first year?

[Written on January 3, and never posted until February...]

It’s worth remembering that America is a vast and cumbersome machine, designed to resist deep change. That this one man has moved the country a few key, structural degrees in one year, and that the direction is as clear and as strategic as that first embraced by Reagan and Margaret Thatcher (in the opposite direction), is under-appreciated. But the shift is real and more dramatic than current events might indicate.
I forget, is Andrew Sullivan a conservative, or middle-of-the-road? Anyway, here's the piece he wrote for Newsweek, on how much Obama has achieved in his first year. I don't follow details enough to know what I think overall.

I don't think the healthcare plan is adequate, and if individuals are required to pay for healthcare insurance, I think that's unconstitutional, but I am thrilled that we are talking about this, and may get something for lots of people.

I don't like his insistence on waging war in Afghanistan. But I sure don't feel 'betrayed' - I knew going in that he wouldn't be exactly the leader I want. It's our job on the left to push for saner policies.

I don't think Obama has a clear understanding of what's needed for education policy, and that's my biggest disappointment.

However much I disagree with his policy choices, I still have hope that the man intends his actions to be moral. At my parents' house, they were watching something called The People's Choice Awards (I think), and the camera kept panning to the Obamas. I can't help liking him ... But the more time goes on and he picks policies that are not helpful, the more I know we need to struggle.