The 3 Teaching entries below appear with the most recent entries first. To see them displayed in the order they were written, please click here.

 September 02, 2005
Locals' Lament

As part of my high-tech whirlwind database life, I occasionally travel to locales far and wide to teach accountants and IT professionals at law firms how to use a database language called SQL (structured query language). Sounds exciting, doesn't it? This is excitement personified.

When a law firm hosts one of these classes -- which is to say, when they provide the training facilities and allow others to attend -- they are accorded a couple of "free" seats in the class. Typically, the employees of the host law firm who attend the class run the risk of getting less out of the class than their counterparts who travel from nearby towns to attend.

Why? Because when a person attends training within their own firm's offices, he or she is often called away for a quick-emergency-meeting or to put out this-one-little-fire or something along those lines. Their training time is not respected by their colleagues because -- Hey! -- they are there at the office anyway, so what harm could it be to pull them out of the class for one teensie-weensie-moment.

Attendees who pay full fare and come in from another firm are not at their office mate's (or boss's) beck and call, and therefore can't be pulled aside to attend to a quick little problem.

For lack of a better term, I'll call this the "locals' lament". It's convenient geographically and economically, at least, for you to be the host but the distractions of being on your home turf keep pulling you away.

So it is for me and this year's North American Science Fiction Convention. My wife and I attempt every year to attend the annual World Science Fiction Convention (typically held during the days leading into the Labor Day weekend) because it features a strong track for professional writers in the field. When "WorldCon" is held outside of North America (this year's was held in Scotland), there is a smaller version held on our home continent, the aforementioned "NASFiC". This year's NASFiC is being held in our home town.

Should be convenient, no? Should make our lives easier, because we don't have so much to arrange in terms of travel and taking care of the kids and all that stuff, right?

Nope. Just as we missed the World Horror Convention when it was held here a couple of years ago, we find our attendance at this year's NASFiC very, very challenging. Difficulties and distractions at the office and at home have led me to miss all of the ceremonies, panels, and parties thus far. Yesterday, I left work in time to make dinner with some friends in town for the Con, but that's the most I've managed so far. Instead of our annual week-long participation, it looks like Paulette and I will be able to get two days this weekend at the most.

Next year's WorldCon will be held in LA. We look forward to having it away from home again (as usual), so that we can once more take full advantage of it.

Posted by at 05:09 PM in the following Department(s): Teaching , Tidbits , Tidbits II , Writing | Comments (1)
 December 20, 2001
Wouldn't fumigation have been cheaper?

My friend Dustin went to a school and then they closed it after he graduated.

I just found out that the school where I'd taught 8th grade math in Medford, MA was not only closed, but *demolished*, soon after I'd left.

Now *that* is how to close a school!

My students will be graduating from high school this June. A very scary thought. :-)

Posted by at 10:28 PM in the following Department(s): Teaching | Comments (0)
 March 27, 2001
Rewarding Idiocy

There's no shortage of news like this throughout the country these days, but I'm amazed at this news item, nonetheless. In Buffalo, NY, the Powers That Be (read: the idiot lawmakers) have decided to try an education experiment that will be funded with federal money.

They are going to pay students $5.00 per hour to attend summer school who require the summer session in order to advance from 8th to 9th grade. That's right: students who are not meeting the state minimum requirements to be admitted into high school are going to be paid to attend summer school.

What are these nitwits thinking? The are going to financially reward students for failing to meet statewide minimum standards. This is as perverse a system of educational incentives as any I've ever heard.

In school districts around the country (including the one in which I briefly taught eighth grade math), honors and "advanced" classes are being scrapped for fear that their very existence might hurt the self esteem of those students who are not selected. Being ahead of the intelligence curve (or, simply applying one's brain at all) is not being encouraged or fostered. That's already bad.

But rewarding sub-par performance? This is somehow going to improve the "outcome-based" results of public education?

I guess the theory behind the new program is that requiring students to attend summer school is not enough, and we should provide added incentives for them to attend. I, for one, am in favor of a more traditional incentive: let's *really* not let them into the high school until they have legitimately fulfilled the requirements of entry. (There are another few essays in me regarding why students are promoted without having met the minimum requirements, but those will have to wait for another day.)

There is an old -- and rather ironic -- Russian phrase that says "people will get the government that they deserve." While we may agree or disagree with this sentiment, the fact is that when the government engages in social engineering -- and any and every policy regarding the education of its citizenry or future citizenry is, by definition, a social engineering project -- the government does end up with the citizenry it deserves.

We have seen numerous examples of how, when the population is rewarded for bad behavior, the result is an increase in the undesirable results. The welfare system in New York State (and other states, as it so happens) that rewards pregnancy and punishes marriage has resulted in a disproportionate number of unwed mothers among the poor in New York State. This, in turn, has resulted in a number of societal ills: single-parent families in poverty are more likely to stay in poverty than two-parent families; children in single-parent families are more likely to be abused; children in single-parent families are more likely to engage in drug use, crime, and the like.

What, then, can we expect of a system that pays our society's children to perform poorly? What can we expect of any system that reinforces any behavior? We can expect to see an increase in that behavior over time, until it is endemic. In this case, we can expect to see a stellar increase in poor performance.

Let's not reinforce poor educational practices. Let us, instead, reward excellent performance. Let's recognize those who do well, and give children across the board unequivocal incentive to excel.

As for Buffalo; if they enact this policy as they are currently planning, the performance of its children will decline significantly in the coming years. And that is a crying shame.

Posted by at 12:25 AM in the following Department(s): Essays , Teaching , Tidbits III

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