14-yr-old imprisoned for changing wallpaper

Zero tolerance means no harmless prank shall go unpunished.

This kid’s prank demonstrated that children in his school have the ability to easily see the questions to be used for the state’s standardized tests, because teachers there apparently have full administrator access to the school’s network, and their passwords are their upcased last names.

But nobody cares about that… I think they’re basically freaked out because it’s Florida, and the kid’s prank was to put a picture of men kissing on his teacher’s desktop. Education be damned, we must punish the gaiety! The teenager has since been released into his parents’ custody.

Obama administration speaks volumes on Zero Tolerance

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder have released many, many megabytes of recommendations and guidelines for improving school disciplinary systems. They recommend that schools use policies based on evidence and aligned with a goal of education, instead of the current policies, which are based on post-Columbine hysteria and a goal of maximizing punishment.

The “zero tolerance” nightmare has always been highly discriminatory towards the poor. The more money you have, the more effectively you can protect your children from the anti-educational cruelty that is the basis of modern US school discipline. When you combine this with the disproportionate number of people of color at lower income levels, and recognize similar inequities in the criminal justice system, the reason the school-to-prison pipeline principally victimizes non-white students is clear. The fact that rich people (who are mostly white) can dodge the absurdly extreme consequences of typical childish behaviors better than poor people (who mostly aren’t white) means that zero-tolerance policies, intended to be equally sadistic and harmful towards all children, are in practice part of a legacy of racism and color-line discrimination anywhere there is a significant non-white population. I’m going to be politically incorrect and say it’s nice to see people coming together to fight these horrible policies, though, and not merely their racist application and effects. Zero tolerance has to go now; the fifteen years we’ve had it have already sown an ill harvest – that we’ll reap for decades, if not centuries – and it’s going to hurt people of every race and color.

Effective discipline is, and always will be, a necessity. But a routine school discipline infraction should land a student in a principal’s office – not in a police precinct. — Eric Holder, 2014-01-08

Another successful Minotaur launch!

The Minotaur family of rockets use motors originally designed for intercontinental nuclear missiles, repurposing weapons of mass destruction for scientific missions.

The Minotaur I & II are based on the Minuteman II, a cold war ICBM which my father helped build.

The Minotaur III through VI+ are based on the Peacekeeper (MX missile) which both my father and I worked on during the Reagan era.

Orbital Sciences Corporation, which builds the minotaurs for the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s Space Development and Test Directorate, also uses Dad’s STAR motors (originally engineered for Pegasus and Delta vehicles) in the upper stages.

NASA’s latest Minotaur launched from Wallops last night contained 28 mini-satellites, one of which was built by Thomas Jefferson High School.

Go go go NAACP of Delaware!

Yesterday the Delaware NAACP’s Jea Street wrote an excellent, fire-breathing letter to Governor Jack Markell and Secretary of Education Mark Murphy, defending the Reach Academy and blasting the ongoing re-segregation of Delaware’s schools.

Delaware’s system is currently set up to provide blatantly unequal public education, segregated purely by wealth. And it’s not the good kind of unequal, which would consist of putting more resources where they can accomplish more, but instead Delaware’s Choice, Charter and Neighborhood Schools laws intentionally exaggerate pre-existing inequalities. The state is not using our tax dollars to break the cycle of poverty, but rather to provide marginally better facilities and instruction to the children of people who are relatively well off (and who in many cases quite frankly could afford private schools). Delaware’s infamous “zero tolerance in schools” policies also preferentially victimize the children of the poor.

Street and the NAACP have become involved because the majority of the poor in Delaware are people of color, and thus statistically speaking the system is rigged primarily against them, and because the Reach Academy primarily serves African-American children. Go get ’em Councilman Street!

Indefinite suspension for drawing a cartoon bomb.

In a bid to upstage Delaware as the most anti-child state in the USA, Greenville, South Carolina’s Hill Crest Middle School has suspended an autistic 13-year-old for drawing a picture of a bomb. News coverage here and here.

“Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?” —George W. Bush, speaking in Florence, South Carolina, Jan. 11, 2000.

Higher education’s obesity spiral

Tim Carmody gives his take at Snarkmarket.

Heather (my only reader) says that it’s unsurprising that University costs are so high; she claims that the accommodations and meals are better than at a hotel, what with the sushi bars and high-speed Internet and whatnot. She’s definitely got a point.

But it seems to me, even so, that we could easily afford give every child in America a complete tax-funded education – all the way to PhD level if they can hack it – for less than we spend on foreign military adventuring. And since we no longer bother to raise taxes to pay for our wars, obviously printing money has not been any barrier to spending in the Obama or Bush administrations. Money’s not really the problem for these people we’ve elected; it’s just a matter of what they want to spend our wealth on – in short, they’ve willingly chosen slaughter over education.

Empirical value of college education in the early 21st century

If you can’t get a job, what good is a degree; and if you can get a job, why do you need an expensive piece of paper?

Graduates have been complaining for years now (and although the sense of entitlement displayed in their complaints is kind of off-putting, it’s not like they don’t have a point.)

In certain fields a sheepskin still has value, but it seems certain that the value of experience is always higher.

Decreasing availability of work (no sign of that trend stopping – what kind of recovery is a jobless recovery anyway?) means employers can choose to hire only the most experienced and knowledgeable workers on the market, without having to pay especially high wages.

Zero Sanity, Zero Tolerance in Michigan

The ACLU’s got a petition to end zero tolerance in Michigan up, go sign it. I’ll wait.

By all accounts Kyle Thompson is a normal 14-year old kid who loves playing football and hanging out with his friends. His principal says he’d love to have an entire school filled with students like Kyle.

And yet, after a misunderstanding with his teacher, Kyle was led from school in handcuffs, was expelled from all state public schools for a year, and is now spending the year under house arrest.

Kyle’s teacher wanted to see a note he had written, and when she playfully tried to take it from him, he tried to hold on to it. Even though all the witness statements said that the teacher was joking around and Kyle didn’t act aggressively, the incident ended with Kyle under arrest. He’s now represented by a criminal defense attorney.

Kyle’s lucky enough to have parents willing and able to spend the big bucks it takes to pry your kid out of the zero tolerance trap. The kids from poorer families, well, they’re gettin a different education – they’re being trained to be the next generation of prison inmates and career criminals.

Kid’s greenfest!

The Newark Center for Creative Learning (which I can’t say enough good about) held their Kid’s Greenfest yesterday. The weather was great but I got sunburnt standing by a large portable solar array chatting with local solar geeks CMI Electric about electric tractors, grid-tie inverters and the voltage and current profiles of thin-film .vs. polycrystalline PV panels. Heather persuaded Senator Chris Coons to make me a fruit smoothie with the NCCL fender-blender (bike provided by the Newark Bike Project). She said he was a good sport about it, and I said I was pleased to see him actually working for somebody who voted for him – instead of greedy media conglomerates.

Several local organic farmers showed up, including a CSA, and I bought a dozen Americana and Buff Orpington eggs… they’re brown and pale green.

you never know how you’ll get famous

Back when I used to do interesting work at the Academy of Natural Sciences, my friend Earle Spamer once showed me an old wooden table.

“This,” he said, “is the table where Edward Drinker Cope was flensed.”

Now, Earle’s got a good sense of humor (by my standards, which are admittedly low) so I was never sure if this was a joke, objective truth, or Academy apocrypha. There is a rather large corpus of Academy apocrypha.

Earle’s written lots of excellent stuff, including a natural history of the Colorado River and an analysis of the probable cladistic connection between Barney the Dinosaur and a dead salmon. But recently I noticed the Earle’s 1999 paper Know Thyself: Responsible Science and the Lectotype of Homo sapiens Linnaeus 1758 (in which he totally schools Louie Psihoyos and Robert Bakker) has become the standard reference behind the ICZN’s official designation of Carl von Linne as the type specimen for homo sapiens sapiens.

I could write up the homo sap type controversy (and name-drop Academy colleagues Gary Rosenberg and Ted Daeschler, who I also remember fondly) but somebody else already did a better job. Well, except that the author repeats the syphillis canard against Cope, which appears to have been disproven at this point.

So it seems that Earle has reached a rather significant scientific stature, and the tables in several scientific publications will have to be revised.

Zero tolerance, zero intelligence, zero education

Number One Son attends a US public school, and thus has learned that the official answer must be given to any test question, and truth or falsehood has no bearing on this requirement. School administration these days is all about punishing deviance from arbitrary rules, and any other lessons learned can generally be credited to teachers who are successfully subverting the system.

Blogger Rob Krampf, however, was dismayed to learn that the standardized tests used in the US State of Florida are completely inadequate for testing knowledge or intelligence, and only measure conformance to authoritarian stupidity. You can read about it here. I guess Mr. Krampf never read The Six-Lesson Schoolteacher.

I don’t find it at all comforting to know that Florida’s state educational system is at least as poorly run as my local public schools. I hope Mr. Krampf can make a difference… Richard Feynman didn’t have a lot of luck, and he was a nobel-prize winning physicist.

Most of the USA is still firmly in the grip of the “zero tolerance” madness that started after the Columbine schoolyard shootings became a national obsession. In California, children can literally be expelled or suspended for rolling their eyes at a school administrator. One assumes the disproportionate number of minorities targeted for such actions is because California minorities are often dark-skinned, and it’s easier to see the whites of their eyes? But it’s not just California schools that have prioritized obedience over learning:

Six year old expelled for a hobo pocketknife
Louisiana 3rd grader suspended for drawing a picture of a knife
High school honor student suspended for accidentally picking up father’s lunchbox

The base principle of “zero tolerance” is a hatred for teaching; when presented with a “teaching moment”, that provides a perfect opportunity for increasing the intellectual capacities of the student, one must apply sufficiently harsh punishment to overcome the benefits of any learning that might take place.