Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sometimes a teacher just can't win

CNN reports:

LONDON, England (CNN) -- UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Tuesday that officials were working to secure the early release of a British teacher who faces being whipped in Sudan after she allowed her class to name a teddy bear "Mohammed."

Gillian Gibbons, 54, was arrested Sunday after she asked her class of seven-year-olds to come up with a name for the toy as part of a school project, her head teacher told CNN.

Robert Boulos, the head of Unity High School in the capital Khartoum, said naming the teddy bear was "a totally innocent mistake" and that Gibbons had never intended to cause offense.

He said Gibbons had asked the children to pick their favorite name for the new class mascot, which she was using to aid lessons about animals and their habitats.

Classmates took turns taking the teddy bear home with them, accompanied by a diary with the bear's name written in the front of it, Boulos said.

"All this is a very sensitive area. I asked her (Gibbons) why she had done it and she said she didn't chose the name, the children did," Boulos told CNN.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Tuesday he was "very sorry" about Gibbons' arrest and that the British embassy in Khartoum was "giving all appropriate consular assistance to her."

He said all efforts were being taken to ensure her early release and that government officials were in touch with the teacher's family in the northern British city of Liverpool.

The school teacher has been accused of blasphemy and is being held by police in Khartoum, Kirsty Saunders, British Foreign Office spokeswoman told CNN.

Although there is no ban in the Koran on images of Allah or the Prophet Mohammed, likenesses are considered highly offensive by Muslims.

Parents of students at the school informed the authorities and Gibbons was taken into custody Sunday, Saunders said.

So far Gibbons has yet to be charged with any offense, however, under Sudanese law, insulting Islam is punishable with 40 lashes, a jail term of up to six months or a fine, she said.

However, a Sudanese official told CNN that if police decided that Gibbons had acted in good faith, she would most likely be spared punishment.

"If the intentions are good, definitely she will be absolved and will be cautioned not to repeat this thing again," Mutrif Siddig, Sudan's under secretary for foreign affairs, said.

He added: "To give the name of Mohammed to this teddy bear, it was considered as insult by some parents. And this school is mixed. It is not all Christian students."

Saunders said that under Sudan's laws a person can be held for no more than 24 hours without charge.

Asked if British authorities were concerned that Gibbons had been held for longer than that time, she said "we are happy that all the correct procedures are being followed."

A Sudanese police source said officials had not finished questioning the teacher, who is being held at a facility of Sudan's criminal investigations directorate on the outskirts of Khartoum.

A representative for her two grown up children -- her daughter Jessica and son John -- told CNN they wished to be left alone until their mother was released.

Gibbons had been working at the school -- popular with wealthy Sudanese and expatriates -- since August, after leaving her position as deputy headteacher at a primary school in Liverpool this summer.

On her entry on the social networking Web site MySpace, Gibbons wrote: "I am a teacher in a school in Khartoum, in Sudan. I like to make the most out of life."

According to the entry, she said her passion was travel and she was hoping to make the most of her time in Sudan by visiting nearby countries.

Gibbons was recruited to work in Sudan by QTS Worldwide, an education consultancy based in the northern county of West Yorkshire.

Eric Liddell, who runs QTS, refused to comment on the incident but said that he had spoken to members of the Unity High School staff, who were hopeful that the British teacher would be released.

Separately, CNN contacted a member of staff, who confirmed the school had been shut down temporarily as a result of the incident involving Gibbons. He refused to give his name and said no other members of staff were available.

He said the school may open again soon, possibly as early as tomorrow.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

American monkeys are so sweet

from Yahoo news:

Thieving monkeys 'out of control' in northeast India
Sat Nov 17, 2007

GUWAHATI, India (AFP) - Troupes of monkeys are out of control in India's northeast, stealing mobile phones and breaking into homes to steal soft drinks from refrigerators, lawmakers in the region have complained.

"Monkeys are wreaking havoc in my constituency by taking away mobile phones, toothpastes, sipping coke after opening the refrigerators," Hiren Das told Assam state's assembly.

He said the primates were "even slapping women who try to chase them".

"It is a cause of serious concern in my area, with more than 1,000 such simians turning aggressive by the day," fumed Goneswar Das, another legislator representing Raha in eastern Assam.

Assam's wildlife minister, Rockybul Hussain, said the state government has formed a panel to study the problem.

Because of shrinking forest cover, monkeys have increasingly moved into cities elsewhere in India as well.

Last week, around two dozen people were hurt after monkeys rampaged through a New Delhi neighbourhood.

Last month, the deputy mayor of Delhi died when he fell from his balcony after being attacked by monkeys.

Efforts to drive out the animals is complicated by the fact that devout Hindus view them as an incarnation of Hanuman, the monkey god who symbolises strength.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Conservatives, liberals and the anterior cingulate cortex

Can you withhold your habitual response when it's necessary? Then your anterior cingulate cortex is in good working order.

When human beings find themselves at a dead end, their anterior cingulate cortex tells them that they need to change course. Or at least that's what it should do.

But in some people, this part of the brain is less sensitive, causing these individuals to ignore new information.

43 college students were hooked up to electroencephalographs and given a button to press when a computer flashed the letter M. They weren't supposed to press the button when the computer flashed W.

The computer usually showed M, so the subjects got in the habit of pressing the button. It turned out that some people just can't let go of a habit, even when the situation calls for them to change course.

Those who did best on the test had the most electrical activity in their brains when the "No Go" cues were presented, according to researcher David Amodio.

Some people, it seems, will just keep on doing the same thing, even when they are receiving information that tells them they aren't getting anywhere.

Students who had identified themselves as most liberal were the most accurate in pressing the button, and had the most electrical activity in their brains.

See articles:
Los Angeles Times
September 10, 2007

Chicago Tribune
September 10, 2007

All this makes me wonder how it would have changed history if George W. Bush had a more sensitive anterior cingulate cortex.

We all remember having teachers like this

I read in Voice of San Diego today about two teachers in Dulzura, and two students who lost their home in the Harris fire last month.

I never met these teachers, but I am sadly familiar with their attitudes. Rigidity and lack of imagination are part of teacher culture.

The creative teachers that you hear so much about have to work within a rigid framework, or they have to swim against the current. Often, they are pushed out of education by the teachers (including administrators who are former teachers) who dominate school politics. Teacher culture demands unity and conformity.

Anyone who tries to change, to improve, is a threat to the status quo. Schools might talk about reform, but they can't tolerate real change. The power structure won't permit it.

Some teachers are very kind, and gifted at communicating with children, but they are not courageous in challenging the broken education system.

I suggest a two-tier teaching system. We need the rigid, unimaginative teachers, because they perform a valuable service. They get certain things done. And they'll work for teacher pay.

We also need a higher-paid tier of teachers working with the regular teachers, not as mentors, but IN THE CLASSROOM. I suggest one master teacher for every three regular teachers. The master teacher spends one-third of his or her time in each classroom, and is responsible for the children's progress. The regular teacher is responsible for reinforcing and re-teaching lessons, and many other tasks that are part of the school day.

Here is the story by Will Carless:

I just got off the phone with Troy Morrison, a parent of two eighth-graders at Oak Grove Middle School in Dulzura, in East County. Morrison and his family lost their home when the Harris Fire consumed their community. He said the family is currently living in a hotel.

Troy said his children and other children at the school have been struggling because the school district has not reduced the amount of homework they have to complete, despite their current circumstances. Many of the students are living in hotels or trailers, Troy said, and the school district should recognize that by reducing their workload.

He said he expects a lot of parents to show up at a school board meeting tonight to complain about the toll homework is taking on their children.

Morrison also told me that on their first day back to school after the wildfires consumed their home and most of their possessions, his son and daughter, 14-year-old Marissa Morrison and 12-year-old Justin Morrison were given assignments that didn’t sit too well with them: Justin was asked in an art class to paint a picture of firefighters saving his home. Marissa was asked to write a thank-you letter to the local firefighters.

Marissa refused, Troy Morrison told me. She’s been around firefighting all her life, he said, and she knows it wasn’t the firefighters’ fault that their home burned. Troy is a former volunteer firefighter. Still, Troy said, she didn’t feel comfortable writing a thank-you note for something that didn’t happen, so she refused to complete the assignment.

Troy said his daughter’s teacher told her she didn’t have a choice.

"They literally told her 'You will do the assignment,'" Troy said.

Meanwhile, in an arts class, Justin Morrison was asked to paint a picture of the firefighters saving his house, Troy told me. Again, his son refused, Troy said, but was again "forced" to complete the assignment. Troy said his son painted the burned-out shell of a home instead.

When Troy heard about the assignments and the actions of the teachers, he said, he was outraged. He called the school’s principal and told her he wanted to meet up. Then he went and met with the principal, who was very sympathetic and apologetic, he said. Troy asked the principal to get the teachers to write letters of apology to his children.

But now, a few days later, Troy said he’s still waiting for those letters. He’s also contacted the head of the local school district, he said, and he plans to air his complaints at the meeting at the school tonight.

"If the teachers aren’t with it enough to hold it together for the students, they shouldn’t be there," Troy said.

November 13, 2007

Monday, November 12, 2007

What does Stanford-educated Rachel Teagle have against ordinary kids?

The new director of the San Diego Children's Museum wants to switch the focus of the museum from kids to art. Have you ever been to a party where everyone is talking about art? Apparently Rachel Teagle wants to create the elementary school version of that kind of party, and is adamant that Dora the Explorer not be invited.

My suspicion is that Ms. Teagle spent too many years at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, and now that she has two babies, she has convinced herself that what the world needs is for her to continue what she's been doing, and pretend that it's exactly what young children need.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Exit exam worsens high school dropout problem

Thanks to Emily Alpert of Voice of San Diego for pointing out this article in Education Week:

California Dropouts Spike in First Year of Exit Exam
Published Online: November 8, 2007
Education Week
By The Associated Press
Sacramento, Calif.

The number of California high school dropouts spiked in 2006, the first year seniors were required to pass an exit exam to graduate, according to a report presented Wednesday to the state Board of Education.

The analysis found that 24,000 high school seniors dropped out in 2006, about 10,000 more than just four years earlier.

The information could give ammunition to lawmakers and others who have criticized the exam, as well as those who have lobbied for alternative assessments.

The firm that prepared the report, Human Resources Research Organization of Alexandria, Va., made several recommendations to the board, including a suggestion that California explore other ways for high school seniors to demonstrate proficiency. In Massachusetts and Washington state, for example, students can be judged on a portfolio of their high school work.

Jack O'Connell, superintendent of public instruction, has consistently opposed such an option. His chief deputy, Gavin Payne, told the board that the superintendent thought all but one of the recommendations were "extremely good."

The report's findings validate the argument that the test is hardest on students who do not have access to good schools or good teachers, said Liz Guillen, director of legislative and community affairs for the nonprofit law firm Public Advocates. That applies mostly to poor and minority students, she said.

Public Advocates sued the state over the exam and sought alternatives.

The report also highlights California's persistent achievement gap and found an even more worrisome problem: Students who are black, Hispanic, poor or learning English did even worse when they were in schools with high concentrations of similar students...