Later On

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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Teaching for learning in organizations

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I have always been a reader, and when I was working in various organizations over my career, I would (naturally) read books about organizations and how to work effectively in them.

Occasionally, I found a book that struck me as providing excellent guidance. Some of these are listed among the books I find myself repeatedly recommending — for example:

When I found a book that taught me a lot, then to ensure I fully absorbed the ideas, I would teach it. I’d offer to present the material to a few fellow employees. The session — one or two or even three hours — would be a presentation with slides, handouts, and worksheets.

Teaching the material of course deepened my own understanding, and I also gained the benefit of insights from participants’ comments and questions.

Generally after the first teaching session, I would improve and extend the teaching materials (slides, handouts, and worksheets) and then offer a session to another group. Word would get around, and I would end up doing the presentation several times, and in so doing fully absorb and internalize the ideas. (And in fact, I continue doing this — see my posts on Covey’s 7 habits, for example, or on my diet — writing and adding to those has helped me understand them better and has also (I hope) helped my readers.)

Back then, I used this tactic — teaching the essential ideas from a book whose content I wanted to master — fairly often. It was a good way to learn, it seemed to be helpful to others, and I could do it on my own initiative: no permission required. And, of course, it was in my interest for my fellow employees to become better (using the books listed) at making decisions, planning, and negotiating — and it was in their interest as well: a win-win situation.

These books worked especially well because each presents a well-defined process, which means that (a) you know what is to be done, and (b) you know where you are in the process: what is complete and what remains to be done. Other books — the books by Chris Argyris, for example — gave me useful insights but did not lend themselves so well to teaching in the short-session format that I used.

Written by Leisureguy

7 August 2022 at 10:20 am

Duolingo uses weird sentences because surprise assists learning

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Via The Eldest, this interesting article in Slate by Jane C. Hu:

In November 2020, the usual dark wet of fall settled into Seattle—and with the pandemic raging and outdoor gatherings less appealing, my social life took a nosedive. To fill my evenings, I decided to take on those things I always said I’d do if only I had more time, like practicing my Chinese. While I grew up speaking Mandarin, I’d never mastered reading or writing characters, so I fired up my long-neglected Duolingo account and committed to doing at least a lesson a day.

Whether you’ve already got some language proficiency under your belt or are starting out as a complete beginner, Duolingo doesn’t teach languages the way you might have learned them in school, with lists of vocabulary and verb conjugations. Instead, it makes you jump right in and start matching words with their meanings or translating sentences. My lessons started out simply enough with new vocabulary and phrases to practice grammar—and occasionally, there was a sentence that made me chuckle, like, “He is handsome but not a good person,” or “There are too many people here.” Then there were some that made me unexpectedly emotional in the context of the pandemic. There was “This year I cannot celebrate Chinese New Year with my family,” and this simple but terrifying question: “Are you happy?” Soon enough, though, my lessons veered into the absurd. I could imagine very specific scenarios in which I’d need to know how to say “he drank three bottles of Baijiu and he is sleeping now” or “I have 1,500 cat photos on my phone,” but they hardly seemed like the kind of sentences I’d need to know how to write in the long term.

A quick Google showed I was not the only one curious about these weird sentences. No internet phenomenon is complete without a dedicated Tumblr and Twitter accounts to document it; users submitted their own nonsensical sentences, like “The bride is a woman and the groom is a hedgehog,” or “The man eats ice cream with mustard.” Others conveyed existential angst, like “I am eating bread and crying on the floor” and “Today I will gaze into the distance and cry as well,” both nominated by Duolingo users as the “most 2020 phrases.” Clearly, these goofy sentences were some kind of strategy—but what, exactly, is Duolingo trying to accomplish with them?

To find out, I went straight to the source. Cindy Blanco, a learning scientist at Duolingo, explained that the company’s content is generated by language-specific teams, each of which has their own quirks. Lessons in Norwegian and Swedish, for instance, often include references to ’90s grunge music. Some teams have always enjoyed sneaking in weird or funny sayings, but over time, course creators made an explicit decision to include them on the theory that weird sentences have the potential to boost learning. I asked how, exactly, that would work, and Blanco explained that people often learn best when there’s a mismatch between what they expect and what they actually encounter. “When there’s a conflict between your expectation and the reality, that triggers responses in the brain,” said Blanco. “It forces you to attend more carefully to what you’re seeing.” For example, when you see a sentence like, “The bride is a woman and the groom is a …,” your brain has likely filled in the word man, so the actual word Duolingo uses—hedgehog—is a surprise. Voila, you have been forced to pay extra attention. . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

. . . Predictable sentences—say, “The bride was a woman and the groom was a man”—are commonplace and unremarkable. Wildly erratic sentences (what linguists would call “semantically unpredictable sentences”) are usually just absurd, like “The table walked through the blue truth.” But something in the middle is where humor lies, Vergut speculates. “The bride is a woman and the groom is a hedgehog” is a perfect example of that sweet spot in between rote and nonsensical.

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2022 at 10:04 am

Past Lives of the Paragraph

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When I read Richard Hughes Gibson’s essay on the paragraph, I immediately misremembered a quotation from Winston Churchill’s My Early Life, 1874-1904. That passage in my memory was as follows:

[B]y being so long in the lowest form I gained an immense advantage over the cleverer boys. They all went on to learn Latin and Greek and splendid things like that. But I was taught English. We were considered such dunces that we could learn only English. Mr. Somervell — a most delightful man, to whom my debt is great — was charged with the duty of teaching the stupidest boys the most disregarded thing — namely, to write mere English. He knew how to do it. He taught it as no one else has ever taught it. Not only did we learn English parsing thoroughly, but we also practised continually English analysis. . . Thus I got into my bones the essential structure of the ordinary British paragraph — which is a noble thing. And when in after years my schoolfellows who had won prizes and distinction for writing such beautiful Latin poetry and pithy Greek epigrams had to come down again to common English, to earn their living or make their way, I did not feel myself at any disadvantage. Naturally I am biased in favour of boys learning English. I would make them all learn English: and then I would let the clever ones learn Latin as an honour, and Greek as a treat. But the only thing I would whip them for would be not knowing English. I would whip them hard for that.

The actual quotation has “sentence” in place of “paragraph,” but in the context of Gibson’s essay, “paragraph” slid neatly into place. (His comment that clever boys could “learn Latin as an honour, and Greek as a treat” first brought to mind Samuel Johnson’s famous dictum, “Greek, sir, is like lace; every man gets as much of it as he can” and then also a comment from Eva T.H. Brann, one of my tutors at St. John’s, to the effect that students in general think the amount of Latin they already know is sufficient, but however much Greek they know, they want to know more.)

But let us now turn to the paragraph. Gibson writes:

[I]t is a little remarkable that the treatises on rhetoric were so slow in coming to note the organic significance of the paragraph: that the theory of the teachers was so many years behind the practice of the writers.

Edwin Herbert Lewis, A History of the English Paragraph (1894)

[T]here is no such thing as a paragraph. That is, there is no item in an outline, no branch of a tree, no unit of discourse that consistently corresponds to a block of text delimited by a blank line or an indentation.

Steven Pinker, The Sense of Style (2015)

What is a paragraph? Consult a writing guide, and you will receive an answer like this: “A paragraph is a group of sentences that develops one central idea.” However solid such a definition appears on the page, it quickly melts in the heat of live instruction, as any writing teacher will tell you. Faced with the task of assembling their own paragraphs, students find nearly every word in the formula problematic. How many sentences belong in the “group?” Somewhere along the way, many were taught that five or six will do. But then out there in the world, they have seen (or heard rumors of) bulkier and slimmer specimens, some spilling over pages, some consisting of a single sentence. And how does one go about “developing” a central idea? Is there a magic number of subpoints or citations? Most problematic of all is the notion of the main “idea” itself. What qualifies? Facts? Propositions? Your ideas? Someone else’s?

In his 1928 English Prose Style, the poet and art critic Herbert Read argued that there’s no point in fussing about the “vague” notion of a central “idea” anyway, since it “will be found of little application to the paragraphs we find in literature,” a claim that Read illustrates with unruly precedents from Thomas Babington Macaulay, John Milton, and D.H. Lawrence, among others. What Read clarifies is not only that single-minded definitions buckle under even minimal stress. Taking up his nearly century-old book, one recognizes a peculiar tradition in which one textbook after another, one generation after another, has promoted a blueprint for paragraph construction conspicuously at odds with the prose of the most highly acclaimed stylists of the English language.

What gives? The tension reflects the paragraph’s curious history as a punctuation mark and unit of thought. In fact, my opening question—what is a paragraph?—only gets more complicated as we gaze further and further into the past, as the paragraph gradually dwindles to a thin line in the margins. This backstory explains why it is so hard to say what exactly a paragraph is and, in turn, why we struggle now to legislate its parameters. But this isn’t an entirely despairing story: To recall the paragraph’s past lives is also to consider how previous generations have put their thoughts in order and to gain thereby a vantage to reconsider our own writing practices.

The trouble begins with the ancient Greeks. Their scribes—and later their Roman imitators—laid out documents in columns on papyrus bookrolls (a.k.a. scrolls) using a method known as scriptio continua in which words are written without spaces in between. The classicist William Johnson has memorably likened the effect to “a tight phalanx of clear, distinct letters, each marching one after the other to form an impression of continuous flow.” But scriptio continua poses an obvious challenge: The reader must sort the marching characters into meaningful words and sentences. Unsurprisingly, scribes and readers over the centuries invented marking systems to aid the reader’s labors of understanding and, equally important, vivid articulation—reading being very much an oral performance in antiquity.

The first such mark—in use from the fourth-century BCE on—was a plain horizontal stroke drawn in the margin alongside or perhaps slightly intruding between lines of the text. This paragraphos (literally, “written beside”) has been called “the first punctuation mark,” though it likely wouldn’t pass muster with modern grade school teachers because it didn’t have a consistent grammatical or rhetorical function. It signified simply that a transition of some kind would take place in the neighboring line—perhaps the beginning of a new sentence or stanza, perhaps a change of speaker in a drama or Platonic dialogue. Typophile Keith Houston has rightly called the paragraphos a “crude instrument.” Its pliability, though, made it eminently useful.

As a mark of change, the paragraphos was a familiar device in the scribal arsenal—along with techniques such as outdenting, enlarging letters, and leaving empty space— for identifying subsections of texts, including those that conform to our sense of paragraph-scale. However, and here we run into our first bump in the narrative, classicists and biblical scholars have debated whether to call these chunks “paragraphs,” at least in the modern sense. First of all, save for a few hints otherwise, these marks cannot be attributed to the authors of the documents; they represent a later (perhaps centuries-later) reader’s or scribe’s interpretation of a given document’s structure (which sometimes varies between copies). More importantly, classical rhetoric had no concept of “the paragraph” as “a generic unit of discourse,” as the rhetorician Jeanne Fahnestock has observed. To be sure, ancient rhetoricians were formidable scholars, and left behind an enormous body of useful counsel about language (poetic and prosaic), argumentation, and education, among other matters. But their principal charge was the training of orators, and though some teachers encouraged writing exercises to that end, none taught the skill of assembling a series of written blocks of text, each designed to unfold ideas, themes, subjects, incidents, etc. Antiquity, in short, provided the terminology from which the paragraph derives but no edicts to govern its production.

The medievals gradually disbanded the scriptio continua phalanx. First its field was taken. In the late Roman Empire, the bookroll was displaced by the new stack-and-flip writing technology, the codex (what we usually mean by “book” now), which had been adopted early on by Christian communities and was better suited to northern lands where papyrus was hard to come by but animal skins weren’t. The codex introduced the page—a new surface, framing device, and interface whose possibilities scribes and artists of the High Middle Ages would consciously exploit. But the more immediate threat to scriptio continua was . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 July 2022 at 8:54 am

Leonard de Vries’s Book of Experiments

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This PDF of experiments seems ideal for a child of elementary-school age. Doing an experiment engages the mind and physical body in a way that merely reading about the experiment does not, and drives the knowledge deeper so that it resides in both brain and body and is more likely to be recalled, used, and built upon. The student who does not do an experiment remembers only a fact;  the student who does an experiment remembers the fact in the context of an experience, a much stronger and more vivid memory.

Highly recommended.

Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2022 at 6:23 pm

The Uvalde shooting video: A 30-year law enforcement officer provides a minute-by-minute breakdown of what happened

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In The Grid, Maggie Severna interviews Frank G. Straub, director of the Center for Targeted Violence Prevention at the National Policing Institute, a nonpartisan research nonprofit, about the video of the Uvalde shooting. The article begins:

A video released this week by the Austin American-Statesman gives an unsettling look into the police response to the May mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. The footage — from security cameras inside the school — shows an apparently disorganized group of police idling down the hall from the part of the building the shooter was in for nearly an hour after he opened fire inside the school, while children and teachers were dying in nearby classrooms without medical care. Some of the officers appear to be holding ballistic shields capable of blocking the shooter’s gunfire.

The police actions in the video run counter to standard active shooter training that officers across the country — including the Uvalde police force — receive today, said Frank G. Straub, director of the Center for Targeted Violence Prevention at the National Policing Institute, a nonpartisan research nonprofit. And it was a departure from law enforcement response to other recent mass shootings.

“The sad reality that we have learned over the years since Columbine is that we can’t wait,” said Straub, who has reviewed many videos of mass shootings as part of his work. “The first officers on scene have to go in, have to respond to hearing gun shots, and they have to neutralize the shooter or shooters as quickly as possible. And they do that recognizing that there is great risk to themselves of serious injury or death.”

Several mass shootings in recent years, including those at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and in San Bernardino, California, saw rapid police intervention, Straub said, and the carnage in those cases could have been significantly worse if police didn’t work to quickly stop the shooting and get medical care to victims, he said.

Straub agreed to watch the new footage from inside Robb Elementary School and share his minute-by-minute analysis with Grid. Prior to becoming a researcher, Straub spent three decades in law enforcement in roles that included police chief in Spokane, Washington, and public safety commissioner in White Plains, New York. He holds a Ph.D. in criminal justice and has led studies of several mass shootings.

“It almost had the feel to me, looking at the video, that people didn’t understand that this was real,” Straub told Grid. “It was almost like something you would see during an active shooter drill or a training exercise, more than what you would see when you knew that active shots had been fired and there were people in those classrooms.”

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Grid: The first part of the video shows the gunman crashing his car outside the school and firing a gun at two men who approach the crash. We hear a teacher call 911, and we see the gunman enter the school and go to a classroom. He fires an AR-15 in two classrooms for two-and-a-half minutes. Three minutes after the gunman walked in, police officers enter the school. From a police officer’s perspective, what is going on and what needs to be done at this point?

Frank G. Staub: The officers theoretically know that they got a 911 call from a teacher saying there’s been shots fired and kids are running. I believe 911 calls went out after he crashed the car, so the police are going into this situation knowing there have been shots fired inside and outside of this school when they’re arriving. That’s an important piece of context to this. They probably have no idea how many shots have been fired in the school, but clearly you can see the arriving officers know there’s shooting going on.

I think they do the right thing: The first group of officers who get there immediately advance down the hallway. From what I can see, one of them had a rifle, the other three look like they had handguns. Nobody has vests other than their duty vests, and duty vests typically don’t stop rifle rounds.

Then we see, at four minutes [after the shooter entered the school], there’s gunfire directed at the officers in the hallway. What I don’t know is, what provoked that? Did the shooter hear noises in the hallway and fire out the door? It looks like one of the officers took some type of shrapnel in the face, and they retreat.

What I don’t know is, when they first went down there, did they just stand outside the classroom, or did they try to enter the classroom? We can’t tell. They should’ve made an effort to enter the classroom where they heard gunfire. Why they didn’t, I don’t know. But in theory, they should’ve tried to enter the room. They know the person is in there, they know he’s shooting, so their job is to stop that individual from firing additional shots.

G: How might this situation have looked to those officers? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 July 2022 at 11:27 am

The dystopia in which US school-age children live

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Atoms vs Bits has an interesting post that begins:

You rise before dawn to make it on time to your government-mandated job. Despite having a medical condition that means you need significantly more sleep than average, compulsory work starts early and it’s still dark out when you catch the commuter bus.

In the hallway to your office, you see that a subordinate has displeased his boss; something about his uniform not being to spec. He’s violently shoved through the wall of a cubicle with a laugh while others hurry past, hoping to escape notice. The victim dusts himself off and scurries away, for that exchange counted as getting off relatively easy. Once, after transferring departments, you’d gotten beaten up by nearly the entire C-suite.

Your day consists of boredom punctuated by intense dread, the only real relief being lunch. On the way there you remember to take the long way around to avoid the accounting department, which is always a likely place to get jumped.

After lunch, as you sit browsing excel sheets, a passing colleague stops by to call you a sand n*****. You briefly remember HR’s suggested reply of “I know you are, but what am I?”, but alas, this colleague is not in fact a sand n*****, so you sit silent, defeated.

It will be several more years before you’re allowed to resign.


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That’s not a dystopian future, it’s just an office-worker version of what many kids go through daily. Adults take for granted how much being a kid can suck, so let’s count the ways:

1. You might have to fight Shaq

The story illustrates the level of violence we accept amongst children in otherwise non-violent societies, but it gets even worse: differing speeds of development lead to huge differences in size and strength, meaning bullying is often like getting picked on by a Shaq-like giant. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 July 2022 at 11:27 am

Things that help with rehab and recovery: Art therapy and Music therapy

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Rehabilitation and recovery from drug addiction requires addressing issues of physical dependency and physical health, but to recover from any addiction — or even just to change a deeply ingrained destructive habit (like poor dietary habits, poor money management, poor anger management) —  one also must change their paradigm or worldview. This may involve reconstructing or regaining a worldview one previously had, or — not unlikely — building a new and constructive worldview by shifting one’s paradigm — their view of how the world works.

Our behavior is largely shaped by how we perceive the world and how it works, so to change our behavior permanently, we must bring about a paradigm shift in how we view the world (as Stephen Covey pointed out in his method). If we fail to change our perceptions, and instead believe willpower alone will be sufficient, we’re likely to fail.

An analogy: If a road is designed for high-speed driving — wide lanes with wide, clear shoulders, excellent visibility, and gentle grades and curves — then posting a sign specifying a low speed limit will have no effect at all. People will drive fast because the road’s design encourages fast driving. If the goal is for drivers to drive slowly, then then the road must be designed to encourage slow driving — that is, the road must be designed so that drivers want to drive slow.

The goal of therapy is to help a person restructure their view of the world. Art therapy and music therapy are two comfortable approaches to that restructuring. I recently received an email from The Recovery Village in Florida that pointed out their web resources, and in particular these two pages:

Although their focus is on recovery from drug addiction, I believe that the same sort of approaches have much broader application, since most of us struggle to some degree with things in our character and habits that we see as holding us back or damaging us in some way — for example, in damaging our relationships with others (at work, at home, in our social lives, whatever).

Rather than passively observing our problems, we can (and should) become active in finding solutions. The Covey method linked above is one way, but art therapy and music therapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy is another.

The key is to find some approach that helps restructure one’s worldview in such a way that good actions and habits are encouraged.

UPDATE: Another approach is to use the development of artisanal skills as a way of recovery and reconstruction of identity, as discussed in this post.

Written by Leisureguy

27 June 2022 at 10:09 am

Habits change your life. Here’s how to change your habits.

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In Big Think Elizabeth Gilbert in association with the Templeton Foundation has an extremely interesting article on the central role that habit plays in shaping our lives, which implies that a change in habits results in a change in one’s life (exactly the thrust of this earlier (and still popular) post.

Gilbert’s article (which you can listen to at the link, if you prefer that to reading) offers a handy list of “key takeaways” (though the third in the list is not what I would call a “takeaway” — the takeaway would be the research findings discussed in the article.

  • The habits people build end up structuring their everyday lives, often without them noticing.  
  • When people recognize a bad habit, they often try to change it through willpower alone — but that rarely works. 
  • Here’s what research says are the most effective ways to replace bad habits with good ones.

She writes:

So you want to make a change in your everyday life — say, exercise more, meet all your deadlines, or develop a new skill. You make a plan, conjure your willpower, and commit. Yet, like the vast majority of people, you eventually fail. 

What happened? Perhaps getting to the gym was more of a hassle than you realized, or you found yourself too tired at night to study that new programming language.

It’s easy to blame yourself for lacking self-control or dedication. But behavioral change rarely occurs through willpower alone, as Dr. Wendy Wood, a behavioral scientist at the University of Southern California, told Big Think. 

Instead, the people most likely to make lasting changes engage their willpower less often than the rest of us. They know how to form helpful habits.

Habits shape our lives

The habits we build end up structuring our everyday lives, often without us even noticing. 

“In research we’re able to show that people act on habits much more than we’re aware of,” Dr. Wood told Big Think.

Sure, humans have advanced brains capable of creativity, problem-solving, and making plans. But it’s our daily habits — the small, everyday behaviors we do without thinking about it — that account for so much of how we spend our time and energy. 

Dr. Wood’s research finds that around 40% of our daily behaviors are habits. That’s why it’s worth taking a close look at what habits are, and whether they’re having a negative or positive effect on our lives.

What are habits, exactly?

Habits are automatic behaviors. Instead of requiring intention, they occur in response to environmental cues like time of day or location. Essentially, your brain forms an association between a specific context and a specific behavior. You then execute that behavior — the ritual or habit — in that context without even thinking about it.

Habits might be things like checking your email as soon as you get to work in the morning, walking a certain route home every evening, chewing your fingernails when nervous, or scrolling through your social media newsfeed when you hop in bed at night. 

 

Habits form when you receive a reward for a behavior. And like Pavlov’s dogs, you might not even realize that you’re learning something new.

How do habits form? . . .

Continue reading

The article includes this video:

Full disclosure: In my undergraduate years, I was enormously impressed by William James’s Psychology: A Briefer Course, and in particular by the chapter titled “Habit.” I can still recite portions of that chapter from memory, such as his dictum that we learn to [ice]skate in the summer and to ride a bike during the winter — that is, the integration and consolidation of a skill requires not only practice but rest, and it is during rest that our internal systems adjust themselves to incorporate the new skill into our patterns of behavior. 

Indeed, now that I think of it, my openness to Stephen Covey’s ideas (described in this post) doubtless derive from that earlier reading.

I include this in the category “Education” because (to my mind) education is the acquisition of habits more than it is of information.

Written by Leisureguy

19 June 2022 at 1:41 pm

White Parents Rallied to Chase a Black Educator Out of Town. Then, They Followed Her to the Next One.

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Some people — indeed, some racists — loudly proclaim that the US today is free of racism.

Nicole Carr reports in ProPublica:

Cecelia Lewis was asked to apply for a Georgia school district’s first-ever administrator job devoted to diversity, equity and inclusion. A group of parents — coached by local and national anti-CRT groups — had other plans.

In April of 2021, Cecelia Lewis had just returned to Maryland from a house-hunting trip in Georgia when she received the first red flag about her new job.

The trip itself had gone well. Lewis and her husband had settled on a rental home in Woodstock, a small city with a charming downtown and a regular presence on best places to live lists. It was a short drive to her soon-to-be office at the Cherokee County School District and less than a half hour to her husband’s new corporate assignment. While the north Georgia county was new to the couple, the Atlanta area was not. They’d visited several times in recent years to see their son, who attended Georgia Tech.

Lewis, a middle school principal, initially applied for a position that would bring her closer to the classroom as a coach for teachers. But district leaders were so impressed by her interview that they encouraged her to apply instead for a new opening they’d created: their first administrator focused on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

DEI-focused positions were becoming more common in districts across the country, following the 2020 protests over the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. The purpose of such jobs typically is to provide a more direct path for addressing disparities stemming from race, economics, disabilities and other factors.

At first, the scope of the role gave Lewis pause. In her current district, these responsibilities were split among several people, and she’d never held a position dedicated to anything as specific as that before. But she had served on the District Equity Leadership Team in her Maryland county and felt prepared for this new challenge. She believed the job would allow her, as she put it, to analyze the district’s “systemic and instructional practices” in order to better support “the whole child.”

“We’re so excited to add Cecelia to the CCSD family,” Superintendent Brian Hightower said in the district’s March 2021 announcement about all of its new hires. (The announcement noted that the creation of the DEI administrator role “stems from input from parents, employees and students of color who are serving on Dr. Hightower’s ad hoc committees formed this school year to focus on the topic.”) Hightower acknowledged “both her impressive credentials and enthusiasm for the role” and pointed out that, “In four days, she had a DEI action plan for us.”

During her early visits, Lewis found Cherokee County to be a welcoming place. It reminded her of her community in southern Maryland, where everyone knew one another. But leaving the place where she’d been raised — and where, aside from her undergrad years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she’d spent most of her adult life — wasn’t going to be easy. Before her last day as principal of her middle school, her staff created a legacy wall in her honor, plastering a phrase above student lockers that Lewis would say to end the morning messages each day: “If no one’s told you they care about you today, know that I do … and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it!”

Lewis was beginning to prepare for her move South, spending as much time with friends and family as possible, when she got a strange call from an official in her new school district. The person on the line — Lewis won’t say who — asked if she had ever heard of CRT.

Lewis responded, “Yes — culturally responsive teaching.” She was thinking of the philosophy that connects a child’s cultural background to what they learn in school. For Lewis, who’d studied Japanese and Russian in college and more recently traveled to Ghana with the Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad program for teachers, language and culture were essential to understanding anyone’s experience.

At that point, she wasn’t even familiar with the other CRT, critical race theory, which maintains that racial bias is embedded in America’s laws and institutions and has caused disproportionate harm to people of color. In a speech the previous fall, then-President Donald Trump condemned CRT as “toxic propaganda” and “ideological poison.”

The caller then told Lewis that a group of people in a wealthy neighborhood in the northern part of the county were upset about what they believed were her intentions to bring CRT to Cherokee County. But don’t worry, the district official said; we just want to keep you updated.


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The following month, inside a gabled white clubhouse overlooking the hills of a Cherokee County golf course, dozens of parents from across the county had assembled on a Sunday afternoon for a lesson in an emerging form of warfare. School board meetings would be their battlefield. Their enemy was CRT.

One of several presenters at the meeting was  . . .

Continue reading. It’s horrifying, but it provides an example of what is going on.

Written by Leisureguy

18 June 2022 at 7:58 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education, Government, Politics

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A Mental Health Clinic in School? No, Thanks, Says the School Board

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Reading the NY Times article by Ellen Barry (gift link, no paywall), it strikes me that many on the school board would themselves benefit from therapy and increased self-awareness. They seem to be governed by fear.

One evening in March, a high school senior named Sydney Zicolella stood before the school board in this rural, blue-collar Connecticut town and described her psychiatric history, beginning in the sixth grade, when she was “by definition, clinically depressed.”

Ms. Zicolella, 17, who wore her dark, curly hair pulled back, is the third of four children in a devout Christian family, and the editor of the newspaper at Killingly High School.

Many students there were struggling, she told the board. She had seen kids “walked, carried and cradled out of counseling, hysterical, not wanting to go to the hospital, but also not wanting to be sad anymore.”

It was not uncommon, she said, for friends to “disappear for months, only to find out that they had been at a mental health hospital right down the road to my house.” She urged the board to approve the placement of a mental health clinic in the school, part of a push by the state of Connecticut to dramatically expand access to care for teenagers.

Convincing the board was a long shot, she knew that. Her own mother, Lisa, 49, who, by her own account, grew up in “the generation of toughing things out,” didn’t support the clinic.

It wasn’t that Lisa entirely disapproved of therapy — when Sydney was in crisis, she scoured northeastern Connecticut in search of a therapist who would take her insurance — but she feared school-based therapists would end up advising teens on matters like gender identity or birth control, which she felt belonged firmly in the grip of parents.

“I do personally believe there’s a lot of agendas out there,” Lisa said. “And children are very malleable.”

This debate has divided Killingly, and its families, since January, when Robert J. Angeli, the superintendent of schools, presented a plan to open a state-funded mental health clinic in the high school.

Legislation to expand Connecticut’s network of school-based clinics had sailed through the legislature, passing the House by a vote of 143 to 4. When Mr. Angeli presented the plan before the town’s Board of Education, though, it ran into a solid wall of resistance, mostly on the grounds that it infringed on the rights of parents.

In March, Killingly’s board members rejected the plan by a vote of 6 to 3. After that, dozens of supporters of the clinic filed a complaint with Connecticut’s Board of Education, asking the state to “investigate and take corrective action.”

Continue reading (gift link, no paywall). There’s much more. It’s disheartening.

Written by Leisureguy

6 June 2022 at 6:56 pm

Abbott calls Texas school shooting a mental health issue but cut state spending for mental health

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 and 

Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that the Uvalde school shooter had a “mental health challenge” and the state needed to “do a better job with mental health” — yet in April he slashed $211 million from the department that oversees mental health programs.

In addition, Texas ranked last out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia for overall access to mental health care, according to the 2021 State of Mental Health in America report.

“We as a state, we as a society, need to do a better job with mental health,” Abbott said during a news conference at Robb Elementary School, where a gunman shot and killed 19 children and two teachers on Tuesday.

His remarks came just a day after an outraged Connecticut senator called out lawmakers opposed to gun control who seek to blame mental illness for the most recent school shooting and others before it.

In rejecting suggestions that stronger gun control laws could have prevented the tragedy, Abbott conceded the slain 18-year-old suspect had no known mental health issues or criminal history but said, “Anybody who shoots somebody else has a mental health challenge.”

His assertions drew rebukes from public health experts and scholars who study mass murderers, as well as from his Democratic gubernatorial rival Beto O’Rourke, who was ejected from the news conference after storming the stage and accusing the pro-gun Republican of “doing nothing” to stop gun violence.

“There is no evidence the shooter is mentally ill, just angry and hateful,” said Lori Post, director of the Buehler Center for Health Policy and Economics at the Northwestern University School of Medicine. “While it is understandable that most people cannot fathom slaughtering small children and want to attribute it to mental health, it is very rare for a mass shooter to have a diagnosed mental health condition.”

David Riedman, founder of the Center for Homeland Defense and Security’s K-12 School Shooting Database, said, “Overall, mass shooters are rational. They have a plan. It’s something that develops over months or years, and there’s a clear pathway to violence.”

The much bigger problem, they said, is Texas and many other states are awash in weapons.

“Texas has more guns per capita than any other state,” Post said. “After the tragic 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, the governor signed several bills to curb mass shootings; unfortunately, most of those bills involved arming the public to stop mass shooters.”

Post pointed out that police officers trained in active shootings were injured Tuesday. She and others said . . .

Continue reading. Video at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

26 May 2022 at 1:33 pm

There’s life in big bands yet: Skylar Tang

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Elizabeth Blair reports on NPR:

Some 300 young musicians from around the country are in New York for Jazz at Lincoln Center’s annual Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition and Festival. They’re attending workshops and jam sessions, meeting professional musicians and competing.

Skylar Tang, 16, has already won her award. The San Francisco Bay Area trumpet player is the winner of the Dr. J. Douglas White Composition and Arranging Contest, an honor bestowed on an original composition written and arranged for big bands by a high school student.

Tang said the vibe of her winning piece, Kaleidoscope, is kind of “frantic,” a bit like her life right now. “There’s a lot of stress in the tune. I go to school. I have assessments and tests. Maybe that has something to do with it,” she said.

It took her about seven months to create her work.  . . 

Continue reading.

You can find Skylar Tang’s work on YouTube. I liked this one, for example:

Written by Leisureguy

6 May 2022 at 10:13 pm

Posted in Education, Jazz, Video

Why do so many incompetent men become leaders? And what can we do about it?

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Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic writes at Ideas.TED.com:

Have you ever worked with people who are not as good as they think? 

This finding won’t come as a surprise to most of us, but statistically, these people are more likely to be male than female. That’s right — men are typically more deceived about their talents than women are. And they are also more likely to succeed in their careers. That’s because one of the best ways to fool other people into thinking you’re better than you actually are is to fool yourself first.

I’m an organizational psychologist, and I use science and technology to predict and understand human behavior at work. One of the areas that fascinates me is the relationship between gender, personality and leadership and more specifically, how gender and personality shape our choices of leaders and how those leaders then impact organizations. Discussions of gender tend to focus on the under-representation of women in leadership, which, sadly, is more or less universal.

But a bigger problem is the fact that most leaders are incompetent. Indeed, whether in business or politics, incompetent leaders have negative effects on their followers and subordinates, causing low levels of engagement, trust and productivity and high levels of burnout and stress. Just google “my boss is” to see what most people think of their managers (and maybe, just maybe, you’ll feel a bit better about your manager). You’ll see words like “crazy,” “abusive,” “unbearable,” “toxic,” and other words that are too rude to repeat.

So, the main question we should be asking is not why there aren’t any more women leaders, but why do so many incompetent men become leaders? 

My research suggests there are three main reasons, and the first is our inability to distinguish between confidence and competence. Across cultures and countries, we tend to assume that confident people have more potential for leadership, but in any area of talent, including leadership, there is very little overlap between confidence (how good people think they are at something) and competence (how good they actually are at something).

The second reason is . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

So, how do we stop incompetent men from becoming leaders?

The first solution is to follow the signs and look for the qualities that actually make people better leaders. There is a pathological mismatch between the attributes that seduce us in a leader and those that are needed to be an effective leader. If we want to improve the performance of our leaders, we should focus on the right traits. Instead of falling for people who are confident, narcissistic and charismatic, we should promote people because of competence, humility and integrity. Incidentally, this would also lead to a higher proportion of female than male leaders — large-scale scientific studies show that women score higher than men on measures of competence, humility and integrity. But the point is that we would significantly improve the quality of our leaders.

The second solution is to . . .

Written by Leisureguy

28 April 2022 at 3:17 pm

Death 101: Life Lessons from the Only Degree in the US and Canada Devoted to the End

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David Swick writes in The Walrus:

IN EARLY 2020, Jade Rabley was enjoying a fun job in the big city, working in HR for an entertainment company in Toronto. But, as the COVID-19 pandemic struck, she felt she had cheated herself because she wasn’t doing what she truly wanted to. So she went back to King’s University College at Western University, in London, Ontario, to further her study of death.

Almost six years earlier, at twenty-four, Rabley had walked into her first-ever class in the university’s department of thanatology, a discipline whose name comes from the Greek word for death. The class was part of a conglomerate of first-year courses that had piqued her interest. The auditorium was bland and dreary; she expected the class to be equally sombre. But the course was thrilling, the professor gentle, and the discussion deep. Anyone who gains a thorough understanding of loss, dying, and grief, the professor once noted to her class, can comfort people who are suffering. Rabley believed that she was being granted integral wisdom. Except there was an uncomfortable reality: at the mere mention of death, she felt physically ill.

Throughout her first year, she hung in, feeling an increasingly strong pull to pursue a vocation that embraces death: a job in a caring profession, perhaps as a psychotherapist. Instead of quitting, she took more courses. In one, Children and Death: Theory and Interventions, that most unsettling subject was presented so warmly that, instead of feeling repulsed, Rabley felt inspired. “I can be absolutely terrified and not talk about death,” she said, “or I can educate myself and others and make a difference.”

Before COVID-19, it was easier to think of death as abstract, as only for people later in life or facing illness. But, for more than two years, we have all lived with constant reminders of what Leonard Cohen meant when he sang, “We are so lightly here”: masks, shutdowns, a grim daily count of the dead, the wary way we walk around one another. Truth, like the mask, is literally in our face.

It’s no wonder anxiety is up. Cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker, in his 1974 Pulitzer Prize–winning book, The Denial of Death, declared that the fear of death is the basic force unconsciously lurking behind our actions, both as individuals and as civilizations. Social scientists in the decades since have proven him right. And behaviours during the pandemic have matched what is expected to arise when death becomes hard to deny. Shopping is up. TV watching is up. Drinking is up. These outlets allow us to focus on something—anything—other than the stark fact of life.

Instead of succumbing to distractions, Rabley turned to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 April 2022 at 8:00 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

Tagged with

Randy Rainbow interviews Ron DeSantis

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Written by Leisureguy

22 April 2022 at 7:56 pm

Republicans get weird

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Not all Republicans, of course. Jennifer Rubin is a Republican, and her column in the Washington Post (gift link, no paywall) shows that rational Republicans reject what the Republican party has now become. She writes:

Open Secrets reports that from 2019 to 2020, business PACs poured more than $21.3 million into Republican coffers. (Covering their bets, they also gave roughly $15.8 million to Democrats.) The rotten return on their largesse should prompt corporate executives to rethink their political giving.

After the Jan. 6 insurrection — and after many Republicans voted to overturn the 2020 election — many corporations declared they would no longer give to Republicans. Many have since reconsidered. Did business leaders think these Republicans have turned over a new leaf?

If so, they were terribly naive, given Republicans’ subsequent conduct. In continuing to fund antidemocratic Republicans, corporations are courting disaster not only for the country but also for their corporations, which depend on the rule of law, functional democracy and peaceful transfers of power.

At the state level, Republicans have continued to undermine democracy with a tsunami of voting suppression and election suppression laws. When Major League Baseball and other businesses objected to Georgia’s voter suppression bill last year, the Republican governor and state lawmakers — not to mention Republicans inside the Beltway — threatened to retaliate.

Texas has been no more hospitable to business. Republicans there also passed a massive bill to . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

18 April 2022 at 12:46 pm

Why the School Wars Still Rage

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In the New Yorker of March 14, 2022, Jill Lepore has an article directly related to the Washington Post article in the previous post. These school wars are, to my mind, exactly why some so strongly resist the introduction of critical thinking skills into the school curriculum: they at some level recognize that their own positions and beliefs will not stand up to critical, reasoned thinking.

Just as some do not want some scientific theories taught, or certain books read or analyzed, they also do not want students to learn thinking skills that might call into question ideas strongly embraced. In particular such parents do not want their own children learning — and even worse, practicing — critical thinking skills.

Those who lack such skills do have strong feelings, and generally they are keenly aware that they have a right to those feelings. They do not understand the benefits of subjecting one’s feelings to questioning and reasoning and logic, particularly when they view those feelings as part of their identity. One advantage of a liberal education is that students routinely subject their own feelings and ideas to this sort of critical thinking, and in so doing they acquire familiarity with the process and know from experience that it is not so threatening or harmful as those who have not tried such an exercise imagine, that instead the exercise leads to the shedding of failed ideas and a deeper understanding of the ideas that survive.

One advantage of manmade physical structures — say, a building or a motorcycle or a loaf of bread — is that when they fail, the failure is physically evident and hard to deny. The failure of a manmade cultural structure — an idea or philosophy — is not physically visible and, for those who have made the idea a part of their identify, impossible to see because the threat to self were the idea to fail. The stakes are so high that failure is not an option, and they will cling to the idea and reject every argument — however strong, however obvious — against it because they feel if they idea fails they will no longer exist as who they are. That is, growth and change are threats to be avoided, not things to be explored and potentially embraced.

In the list of books I frequently recommend is a book by Daniel Goleman, Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception, that explains why and how people will avoid seeing things that cause psychological pain. It’s worth reading; the link is to inexpensive secondhand editions.

Lepore writes:

In 1925, Lela V. Scopes, twenty-eight, was turned down for a job teaching mathematics at a high school in Paducah, Kentucky, her home town. She had taught in the Paducah schools before going to Lexington to finish college at the University of Kentucky. But that summer her younger brother, John T. Scopes, was set to be tried for the crime of teaching evolution in a high-school biology class in Dayton, Tennessee, in violation of state law, and Lela Scopes had refused to denounce either her kin or Charles Darwin. It didn’t matter that evolution doesn’t ordinarily come up in an algebra class. And it didn’t matter that Kentucky’s own anti-evolution law had been defeated. “Miss Scopes loses her post because she is in sympathy with her brother’s stand,” the Times reported.

In the nineteen-twenties, legislatures in twenty states, most of them in the South, considered thirty-seven anti-evolution measures. Kentucky’s bill, proposed in 1922, had been the first. It banned teaching, or countenancing the teaching of, “Darwinism, atheism, agnosticism, or the theory of evolution in so far as it pertains to the origin of man.” The bill failed to pass the House by a single vote. Tennessee’s law, passed in 1925, made it a crime for teachers in publicly funded schools “to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.” Scopes challenged the law deliberately, as part of an effort by the A.C.L.U. to bring a test case to court. His trial, billed as the trial of the century, was the first to be broadcast live on the radio. It went out across the country, to a nation, rapt.

A century later, the battle over public education that afflicted the nineteen-twenties has started up again, this time over the teaching of American history. Since 2020, with the murder of George Floyd and the advance of the Black Lives Matter movement, seventeen states have made efforts to expand the teaching of one sort of history, sometimes called anti-racist history, while thirty-six states have made efforts to restrict that very same kind of instruction. In 2020, Connecticut became the first state to require African American and Latino American history. Last year, Maine passed “An Act to Integrate African American Studies into American History Education,” and Illinois added a requirement mandating a unit on Asian American history.

On the blackboard on the other side of the classroom are scrawled what might be called anti-anti-racism measures. Some ban the Times’ 1619 Project, or ethnic studies, or training in diversity, inclusion, and belonging, or the bugbear known as critical race theory. Most, like a bill recently introduced in West Virginia, prohibit “race or sex stereotyping,” “race or sex scapegoating,” and the teaching of “divisive concepts”—for instance, the idea that “the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist,” or that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

While all this has been happening, I’ve been working on a U.S.-history textbook, so it’s been weird to watch lawmakers try their hands at writing American history, and horrible to see what the ferment is doing to public-school teachers. In Virginia, Governor Glenn Youngkin set up an e-mail tip line “for parents to send us any instances where they feel that their fundamental rights are being violated . . . or where there are inherently divisive practices in their schools.” There and elsewhere, parents are harassing school boards and reporting on teachers, at a time when teachers, who earn too little and are asked to do too much, are already exhausted by battles over remote instruction and mask and vaccine mandates and, not least, by witnessing, without being able to repair, the damage the pandemic has inflicted on their students. Kids carry the burdens of loss, uncertainty, and shaken faith on their narrow shoulders, tucked inside their backpacks. Now, with schools open and masks coming off, teachers are left trying to figure out not only how to care for them but also what to teach, and how to teach it, without losing their jobs owing to complaints filed by parents.

There’s a rock, and a hard place, and then there’s a classroom. Consider the dilemma of teachers in New Mexico. In January, the month before the state’s Public Education Department finalized a new social-studies curriculum that includes a unit on inequality and justice in which students are asked to “explore inequity throughout the history of the United States and its connection to conflict that arises today,” Republican lawmakers proposed a ban on teaching “the idea that social problems are created by racist or patriarchal societal structures and systems.” The law, if passed, would make the state’s own curriculum a crime.

Evolution is a theory of change. But in February—a hundred years, nearly to the day, after the Kentucky legislature debated the nation’s first anti-evolution bill—Republicans in Kentucky introduced a bill that mandates the teaching of twenty-four historical documents, beginning with the 1620 Mayflower Compact and ending with Ronald Reagan’s 1964 speech “A Time for Choosing.” My own account of American history ends with the 2021 insurrection at the Capitol, and “The Hill We Climb,” the poem that Amanda Gorman recited at Joe Biden’s Inauguration. “Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: / That even as we grieved, we grew.”

Did we, though? In the nineteen-twenties, the curriculum in question was biology; in the twenty-twenties, it’s history. Both conflicts followed a global pandemic and fights over public education that pitted the rights of parents against the power of the state. It’s not clear who’ll win this time. It’s not even clear who won last time. But the distinction between these two moments is less than it seems: what was once contested as a matter of biology—can people change?—has come to be contested as a matter of history. Still, this fight isn’t really about history. It’s about political power. Conservatives believe they can win midterm elections, and maybe even the Presidency, by whipping up a frenzy about “parents’ rights,” and many are also in it for another long game, a hundred years’ war: the campaign against public education.

Before states began deciding what schools would require—from textbooks to vaccines—they had to require children to attend school. That happened in the Progressive era, early in the past century, when a Progressive strain ran through not only the Progressive Party but also the Republican, Democratic, Socialist, and Populist Parties. Lela and John Scopes grew up in Paducah, but they spent part of their childhood in Illinois, which, in 1883, became one of the first states in the Union to make school attendance compulsory. By 1916, nearly every state had mandated school attendance, usually between the ages of six and sixteen. Between 1890 and 1920, a new high school opened every day.

Some families objected, citing “parental rights,” a legal novelty, but courts broadly upheld compulsory-education laws, deeming free public schooling to be essential to democratic citizenship. “The natural rights of a parent to the custody and control of his infant child are subordinate to the power of the state, and may be restricted and regulated by municipal laws,” the Indiana Supreme Court ruled in 1901, characterizing a parent’s duty to educate his children as a “duty he owes not to the child only, but to the commonwealth.” As Tracy Steffes argues in “School, Society, and State: A New Education to Govern Modern America, 1890-1940” (2012), “Public schooling was not just one more progressive reform among many but a major—perhaps the major—public response to tensions between democracy and capitalism.” Capitalism divided the rich and the poor; democracy required them to live together as equals. Public education was meant to bridge the gap, as wide as the Cumberland.

Beginning in the eighteen-nineties, states also introduced textbook laws, in an attempt to wrest control of textbook publishing from what Progressives called “the book trust”—a conglomerate of publishers known as the American Book Company. Tennessee passed one of these laws in 1899: it established a textbook commission that selected books for adoption. The biology book Scopes used to teach his students was a textbook that Tennessee had adopted, statewide, at a time when it made high school compulsory.

“Each year the child is coming to belong more and more to . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

18 April 2022 at 7:34 am

Censorship battles’ new frontier: Your public library

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Annie Gowen reports in the Washington Post (gift link, no paywall):

LLANO, Tex. — In early November, an email from a citizen dropped into the inbox of Judge Ron Cunningham, the silver-haired head chair of the governing body of Llano County in Texas’s picturesque Hill Country. The subject line read “Pornographic Filth at the Llano Public Libraries.”

“It came to my attention a few weeks ago that pornographic filth has been discovered at the Llano library,” wrote Bonnie Wallace, a 54-year-old local church volunteer. “I’m not advocating for any book to be censored but to be RELOCATED to the ADULT section. … It is the only way I can think of to prohibit censorship of books I do agree with, mainly the Bible, if more radicals come to town and want to use the fact that we censored these books against us.”

Wallace had attached an Excel spreadsheet of about 60 books she found objectionable, including those about transgender teens, sex education and race, including such notable works as “Between the World and Me,” by author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, an exploration of the country’s history written as a letter to his adolescent son. Not long after, the county’s chief librarian sent the list to Suzette Baker, head of one of the library’s three branches.

“She told me to look at pulling the books off the shelf and possibly putting them behind the counter. I told them that was censorship,” Baker said.

Wallace’s list was the opening salvo in a censorship battle that is unlikely to end well for proponents of free speech in this county of 21,000 nestled in rolling hills of mesquite trees and cactus northwest of Austin.

Leaders have taken works as seemingly innocuous as the popular children’s picture book “In the Night Kitchen” by Maurice Sendak off the shelves, closed library board meetings to the public and named Wallace the vice chair of a new library board stacked with conservative appointees — some of whom did not even have library cards.

With these actions, Llano joins a growing number of communities across America where conservatives have mounted challenges to books and other content related to race, sex, gender and other subjects they deem inappropriate. A movement that started in schools has rapidly expanded to public libraries, accounting for 37 percent of book challenges last year, according to the American Library Association. Conservative activists in several states, including Texas, Montana, and Louisiana have joined forces with like-minded officials to dissolve libraries’ governing bodies, rewrite or delete censorship protections, and remove books outside of official challenge procedures.

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

17 April 2022 at 1:24 pm

Critical Race Theory Panic: What’s REALLY Behind It?

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Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2022 at 11:47 am

The Psychology of Dictatorship

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Written by Leisureguy

12 April 2022 at 3:45 pm

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