Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Bank robber turned Georgetown law professor is just getting started on his goals

leave a comment »

Susan Svrluga profiles an interesting law professor in the Washington Post:

During a break in a basketball game to raise money for charity, Shon Hopwood told some of his Georgetown law students it felt different than the last time he was on a court: When he played basketball in federal prison, he had to carry a shank in case his team started to lose.

His students laughed. He ran back onto the law-school court — and sank the winning shot.

Hopwood’s new job as a tenure-track faculty member at the Georgetown University Law Center is only the latest improbable twist in a remarkable life: In the last 20 years, he has robbed banks in small towns in Nebraska, spent 11 years in federal prison, written a legal petition for a fellow inmate so incisive that the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, done that again, earned undergraduate and law degrees and extremely competitive clerkships, written a book, married his hometown crush and started a family.

But this could be his most compelling role yet. His time in prison gave him a searing understanding of the impact of sentencing and the dramatic growth in incarceration in the United States, an unusual perspective on the law that allows him to see things other lawyers overlook. And he takes the job at a time when criminal-justice issues have real urgency, from lawmakers to protesters to students.

“It’s one of the big social-justice issues of our time,” he said. The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its prisoners. “Between prison, jail, home confinement, probation, parole, combined it’s about 10 million people. It’s a big number.” And almost three-quarters of released prisoners are back in custody five years later. He hopes to change some of that.

“The story’s still writing itself,” he said in his office recently, marveling while students hurried to class outside. “I feel like I’m living someone else’s life quite often these days.”

Shon Hopwood’s life didn’t start out as remarkable. It began with a happy childhood in a town of 2,500 people in Nebraska. His dad managed a cattle feed yard and his parents helped found a church. He was friendly and well-liked, uninterested in school, and best known for his skill on the basketball court.

An athletic scholarship to college ended when he got kicked out for not going to class. After two years in the U.S. Navy, he drifted back to Nebraska, depressed, drinking, doing some drugs, living in his parents’ basement and working 12-hour shifts on a cattle farm, shoveling manure.

One night his best friend turned to him in a bar and suggested that they rob a bank.

In August 1997, Hopwood walked into a bank, sweating, heart racing, dropped a metal toolbox to the floor with a bang and pulled a rifle from his coveralls. With the terrified customers and tellers locked into a vault he sped away with $50,000 of other people’s money and his friend, who knew every bit as well as he did that what they had done was horribly wrong.

His friend suggested sending the money back, with a note. Instead, Hopwood went on to rob four more banks.

At his sentencing, 30 family members stood behind him, most of them crying. He was 23 years old. Judge Richard Kopf thought he was a punk. He had not forgotten Nebraska’s history of violent bank robberies. When Hopwood told him he was going to turn his life around, Kopf said something disdainful like: I guess we’ll see in about 13 years.

His first morning in federal prison, Hopwood got up early to work out and watched as two inmates yanked another one from a pullup bar, knocked him to the ground and stomped on the man with steel-toe boots leaving bits of teeth in pools of blood.

Working in the prison law library sounded like a good idea.

At first, he just checked books out. But in the summer of 2000, a Supreme Court decision caught inmates’ attention: Essentially, Hopwood explained, “things that can increase your sentence need to be proven to a jury, or you need to plead guilty to them.” He had been sentenced based on guidelines for armed robbery, even though he had pleaded guilty to unarmed robbery. A technicality, maybe, but he began dreaming of getting out early. Among all the other reasons to leave, he had begun a friendship, by mail, with a girl from back home.

After two months of research, he mailed off a brief and quickly got a response: He had filed it to the wrong court.

And when he redirected his appeal, Kopf denied it; the new decision did not apply retroactively in his case.

Still, something had clicked. Trying to figure out a solution to the legal puzzle was the first academic thing Hopwood had ever enjoyed. And it came easy. Soon he was sending memos to other inmates’ lawyers, suggesting strategies. Then he was writing briefs.

He was finding errors, often from overworked public defenders, like a young black man sentenced to 16 and a half years for possessing less than a handful of crack cocaine because he had mistakenly been labeled a career offender. With Hopwood’s help, his sentence was reduced by more than 10 years.

The third brief he ever wrote was for a friend whose appeal had been denied. Hopwood spent months learning about the Supreme Court and habeas petitions, and one night he realized how he could frame an argument using the Sixth Amendment rather than the Fifth. After many drafts, honed by conversations with fellow inmates that forced him to distill the legal issues into simple, compelling logic, he typed out a petition for certiorari and mailed it off.

Months later, he was working out early one morning when a prisoner came running toward him, screaming that Hopwood was going to die. He tensed for a fight; he had recently survived a situation in which he fully expected to be stabbed to death by gang members.

But the man was holdng a newspaper, with the story of the Supreme Court accepting a petition from a federal prisoner.

The odds of that happening are maybe one in 10,000, said Seth Waxman, the former solicitor general of the United States who agreed to argue the case for free. He read the petition with amazement. “It was incredibly good. It really identified, in sort of a crystalline form, the questions presented. It explained the conflict, it explained the importance.”

He immediately wanted to talk to the bank robber who could write such a thing, and thus began a friendship that would help change the trajectory of Hopwood’s life.

Now Hopwood was spending his time doing things like reading a 1,650-page textbook on criminal procedure. Twice. And with new sentencing guidelines, he was busy churning out work for other inmates, taking on 10 or more cases at a time. “I was running a law firm in prison,” he said lightly. Because he was now convinced that sentences beyond about five years didn’t make sense for any but the most dangerous criminals, because he was upset by the disparities in sentences, because he saw prison more often hardening people or cutting off their chances for reform than turning their lives around, he enjoyed seeing people packing for home. He had another petition granted by the Supreme Court.

When he walked out of prison in October 2008, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 April 2017 at 11:24 am

Posted in Daily life, Education, Law

PSA: Best summer workshops for aspiring artisans (in various crafts)

leave a comment »

Good article here in Craftsmanship magazine.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2017 at 9:53 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

The Architecture of Trust

leave a comment »

Michael Erard writes in Craftsmanship magazine:

It is tempting to see the political strife marking America these days as unprecedented, but history shows this country riven by conflict between regions, classes, races, and ideologies for centuries. One might even say that the anger and divides of the current moment are an outgrowth of what’s come before.

Throughout those battles, antidotes to our civic poisons have always run through the American bloodstream too. Americans have continually found ways to neutralize their discord and catalyze diversity, turning them into sources of strength. In a sense, the country has made it this far because its conflicts always have been counteracted by positive sentiments of equal force: shared traditions, and shared ideas about the future.

Some of these traditions, such as the protections of the Bill of Rights, are enshrined in law; others come from less tangible but still commonly held values around core American ideals such as religious tolerance and personal freedom. In the words of the late political writer Molly Ivins, “it is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America.”

Today, these antidotes seem weakened; some remedies might still pack some punch, but few of us know how to employ them anymore. It’s as though we’ve forgotten the basic craft of conversation.

In the midst of this chaos, projects are springing up across the country to connect people across political and racial differences in an effort to strengthen our natural defenses. “After the election, people have been coming at us with their hair on fire,” said Liz Joyner, who is the executive director of a civic engagement project, the Village Square, that was founded 11 years ago in Tallahassee. The project has already built a reputation for tackling controversial topics, such as energy, race, and faith, in public events that attract a socially and politically diverse crowd of followers.

Village Square has its roots in the experiences of three friends who, in 2006, found themselves on different sides of a proposed coal power plant—yet remained friends. “We’d have full cage-match discussions and then go for a run or a beer,” said Bryan Desloge, a county commissioner from Leon County. The plant didn’t go through, but each member of the trio was struck by the fact that their friendships survived the debate. So were their other friends. Liz Joyner, who had worked in election campaigns for Democrats and had a background as a social worker, soon became the group’s executive director and spooled it up. Since that time, Village Square has put on hundreds of events and opened chapters in Sacramento, California; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Fort Lauderdale.

“Break a little bread”

Village Square’s philosophy, not surprisingly, is centered on talking—not just any talking, but across political differences. Its website features a fable-like origin story for American democracy, which (as the story goes) was

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2017 at 6:36 pm

Dutch Kids Aren’t Stressed Out: What Americans Can Learn From How the Netherlands Raises Children

leave a comment »

Alternet has an interesting excerpt from a book:

The following is an adapted excerpt from The Happiest Kids in the World (The Experiment, April 2017) by Rina Mae Acosta and Michele Hutchison.

Two toddlers have just chased each other to the top of a jungle gym while their mothers are lost in conversation on a nearby park bench. A gang of older children in tracksuits comes racing along the bike path, laughing. They overtake a young mom, who is cycling slowly, balancing a baby in a seat on the front of her bike and a toddler on the back. A group of girls is playing monkey-in-the-middle on the grass. Not far away, some boys are perfecting their skateboarding moves. None of the school-age children are accompanied by adults. This is no movie, just a happy scene on a regular Wednesday afternoon in Amsterdam’s Vondelpark.

In 2013, UNICEF rated Dutch children the happiest in the world. According to researchers, Dutch kids are ahead of their peers in well-being when compared with twenty-nine of the world’s richest industrialized countries. The US ranked twenty-sixth, just above Lithuania, Latvia and Romania – the three poorest countries in the survey.

As an American mom and a British mom, both of us married to Dutchmen and raising our kids in the Netherlands, it’s hard not to notice how happy Dutch children are. The scene we described above should give you an idea why: Childhood over here consists of freedom, plenty of play and little academic stress.

When we compare notes with friends back home, we hear horror stories, often to do with draconian selection processes to get into schools, starting at the tender age of three. These days there’s even such a thing as “good” or “bad” birthdays and “red-shirting” to ensure children have a head start over the other children in the class. In America, parenting has evolved into a highly competitive, exhausting business and schooling into a warzone with children drilled like miniature soldiers.

Stress-Free Schooling

Of all the parenting decisions we have to make, our child’s education is one of the most fundamental. Education is seen as the route to success and a guarantee of a happy future. No American parent can ever be sure they’ve made the right decision, whether they’ve chosen private or public school. If you don’t get your kid into a good nursery school, they won’t get into a good elementary school. A good elementary school is essential to get your child into a decent middle and then high school. And, of course, a decent high school is essential to get a place at the best university. Many parents will go to great lengths to get their child into the right school – taking out an extra mortgage, or moving to a different town.

But in the Netherlands, childhood is unencumbered with any of these particular concerns. Education has a different purpose: the route to a child’s well-being and their individual development. Schools in highly-populated areas use a lottery process to select students, rather than competitive entrance exams and heart-wrenching interviews. To get into most college programs, all a student needs is to pass high school exams at the right level. As a result, there is no real pressure to get straight A’s. In order to come to grips with the Dutch school system, we had to let go of a lot of things we’d been brought up to believe in and re-examine what education was all about.

In Dutch elementary schools, kids start school at four but don’t start structured, formal learning – reading, writing, arithmetic – until six years old, Year 3. If they show interest in these subjects earlier, they are provided with the materials to explore them. Children may learn to read and write in their first year of school this way, but there is no pressure. Classmates who learn to read later, at six or seven, show no particular disadvantage and soon catch up.

Most schoolchildren don’t get any homework until they leave primary school. It’s unsurprising, a growing body of research suggests that homework for young children is a waste of time and has little or no benefit in enhancing learning or performance. Play, which is also a learning process, and having fun are considered more important here in the Low Countries than getting ahead academically.

According to the American National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, “Reading is the single most important skill necessary for a happy, productive and successful life. A child that is an excellent reader is a confident child and has a high level of self-esteem.” By not forcing children to read too early, reading becomes a pleasure, not a chore.

Joyful Illiterate Preschoolers

Rina’s three-year old Julius attends peuterspeelzaal (playschool) four times a week. At each session there are, at most, sixteen children, supervised by two teachers. Julius is shy and doesn’t talk much around strangers or in big groups, and is getting extra help to develop his language skills – but through play rather than formal instruction.

A typical session at playschool involves play, listening to stories, arts and crafts, and music. There’s no attempt to teach the letters of the alphabet or numbers. Dutch playschool revolves around children doing what they enjoy best – playing, and interacting with other children. Cool, calm Dutch moms seem to love the laid-back approach which the teachers assure them is the best for their kids.

A Dutch friend, Maria, who lives in San Francisco with her husband and six-year-old, muses, “Being an outsider, I’m constantly amazed at how American moms are different from Dutch moms. My mind is blown on a daily basis. There’s this preoccupation with reading at a young age – they believe that the ability for younger kids to learn to read and write and recognize numbers will somehow mean more success later in their academic life.”

Ottilie, another Dutch mom living in San Francisco, says, “Both my kids started reading ‘late’ – when they were almost seven. The school flagged them for reading help at the age of six, but I turned it down. I wanted to wait, since it’s thought normal in Holland that not all kids are ready to read at five or six. Then, when they were turned seven, they both started reading. They advanced super-fast and have since been avid readers, reading at higher levels than is standard for their grade. If they had had specialist help, that program would have received the credit for this. But I’m convinced that kids, as long as they don’t have dyslexia or other learning issues, will simply learn how to read when they are ready.”

“A six is enough”

In the Dutch approach to elementary school education, there is no top of the class to aspire to. The same is true of high schools in which pupils are streamed into different schooling types: vocational/professional/academic. Once you are in a particular stream, you need to score an average of six out of ten to stay at this level. Marks are deducted for mistakes and perfection (ten out of ten) is virtually unattainable. Most students score sixes and sevens. This is sufficient to secure their high school diplomas and a place at a university, college, or technical program after graduation. In a new study, only 18% of Dutch students said they were studying hard with an 8 [A] as their aim, one student quoted said, “I’d rather get a six and have no stress than a seven and have no life.” Only a small percentage make an eight average, and this is considered extremely high. Dutch scores are graded on a curve, so an individual score is relative to what everyone else scored.

In the academic stream, if students have made it through with a passing grade, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2017 at 1:21 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Education

Steve Martin teaches an on-line course on comedy

leave a comment »

Learned it from this post on Open Culture. Here’s the teaser:

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2017 at 6:40 pm

Posted in Comedy, Education, Video

Why White Parents Won’t Choose Black Schools

leave a comment »

Abby Norman writes at the Huffington Post:

Last year when I attempted to pick my daughter up from school, the volunteers in the carpool line tried to put a fourth grader in my car, not the four year old I was attempting to retrieve. Both of us were vehemently shaking our heads, both of us looked totally confused, but the man with the radio would not be deterred. There are only a handful of white kids at my daughter’s school, and only two of them are car-riders. One of them gets picked up by her mom, the other, her dad. This white girl went with the white mom, and I was a white mom. This must be the right van.

This slightly awkward, but hilarious interaction strikes at the heart of the change in our neighborhood. While we were once one of the only white people in the neighborhood, most of the abandoned houses are now snapped up and fixed up by young white couples, often with kids. Those kids don’t go to our school.

Though my daughter is not the only white kindergartner in my neighborhood, she is the only white kindergartner in her class. My new neighbors, ones who come into the neighborhood raving about how much they love it, do not send their kids to the school. While they love my neighborhood, they do not love my school.

A friend and I were recently chatting about her move to the neighborhood next to mine. I was surprised that she didn’t even look across the dividing line road we live about two blocks from. She shrugged her shoulders, “yeah, I really like your house but our real estate agent said we shouldn’t even look there because of the schools.” Because of the schools. The school I send my daughter to. She did not look at the houses with more square footage and a smaller price tag because someone who has never been in the school doesn’t find it suitable.

This summer, when I told the other moms at the pool where my kids went to school, I was repeatedly told to move them. This from women who had never ever set foot in my school. They had not had contact with our deeply passionate, and very responsive principal, had not met the Pre-K teachers who my daughter loves more than Santa. They had not toured the various science labs, or listened as their child talked incessantly about robotics. They don’t know that every Tuesday, Juliet comes home with a new Spanish song to sing and bothers me until I look up the colors in Spanish if I can’t remember them from high school. Juliet loves her school. Her mother, a teacher at a suburban school, and her father, a PhD candidate at the state university, both find the school completely acceptable, more than acceptable. We love it, too.

But my neighbors will not send their kids there and my friends won’t even move into the neighborhood. They will whisper about it. They will tell their friends not to go there. They will even tell a stranger that she should move her kids immediately as they both wait for their children to come down the water slide. But they will not give the neighborhood school a chance. They will even go to great lengths to avoid the neighborhood school.

In July, through the neighborhood list serve I got invited to attend the charter school exploration meeting. A group of parents were attempting to start a charter school to center on diversity. They wanted a Spanish program and a principal that was very invested in the neighborhood. After inquiring I discovered the local elementary school had not even been contacted. The one with a principal who left his high profile high school job and came back to his neighborhood to an elementary school where he immediately implemented a Spanish language program. Before starting their own charter school, not one person had bothered even contacting the school already in existence. The school that has made huge strides, and could do even better with some parents who had this kind of time and know how. No one was interested in the school of the neighborhood.

The same people who were questioning the school I picked for my girls and starting their own charter school, wanted to talk to me about the This American Life Podcast about segregated schools. They wanted to talk to me about things I already knew. Our schools are more segregated than they have ever been. Our educational system is deeply inequitable. Things are only getting worse. They shook their concerned liberal heads in sadness wondering what they could do. Then they made sure their child got into the very white, pretty affluent charter school that is not representative of their neighborhood. When one didn’t exist, they took their resources and began creating one.

When I am able to move past the anger, the frustration that people are talking about a school they know nothing about, I listen to what they say. Behind all the test score talk, the opportunity mumbo jumbo that people lead with, I feel like what is actually being said, and what is never being said is this: That school is too black.

The people who are moving into my neighborhood want their children to have a diverse upbringing, but not too diverse. They still want a white school, just with other non-white children also participating. They want to go to the Christmas pageant and not have their white sensibilities violated because the other parents are too loud and boisterous and it makes them uncomfortable, for really no good reason. They don’t want their kid to notice her whiteness in Pre-k and then find out while addressing that question, that while they already own great books about diversity, the only children’s books specifically about whiteness are published by the KKK. They don’t want their child to ask them why Quintavious’s sister says she doesn’t like white people. They don’t want to have to wonder when the teacher calls, if they are getting extra attention because white parents are often perceived as overbearing. They want diversity, just not too much.

And I get it. I do. It is hard to not always be comfortable in a place you had once thought of as completely familiar. It is weird when you and your child have some different cultural touchstones that you thought of as universal but are actually white (I am looking at you, birthday song.) It is kind of tricky to explain MLK day and black history month to a kindergartner who is the only one in her class that looks like the oppressor, the only kid that has benefited from the oppression being exposed. It is just way easier for white kids to talk about black history at a white school.

But why are we choosing easier and comfortable? White people get to be comfortable in most of American society. It took me until I was an adult to be somewhere white feelings were not centered. That stripping of privilege felt awful and unfair, even when it wasn’t. My kids already know what that is like.

It is a gift for my kids to learn in an environment where their experiences are not the experiences of the majority of the kids in the room. Amidst the discomfort, the worrying about what to tell my kid when she asks complicated questions about race in her simple vocabulary, I have found so many gifts. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2017 at 5:42 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

Tagged with

Roland Barthes – How to Read the Signs in the News

leave a comment »

I found this brief video that describes how Roland Barthese looked at TV news to be quite interesting:

And then I found this series of four brief videos on YouTube. Worth watching especially nowadays. It’s an interesting way to look at media, for example: peeling off and lifting up the cultural overlay on reality, removing the memes to see what is underneath.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2017 at 7:22 pm

Posted in Books, Education, Media, Memes

Tagged with

%d bloggers like this: