Apr 26 2016

Adventure Italia: Day 1 of 9

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(porticos of Bologna in the wee morning hours)

After leaving Austin, Texas at 4:30 p.m. on a Saturday, we arrived in Bologna, Italy around 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. Our host Cosimo was waiting to pick us up. He lives about ten minutes from the airport, so after a short drive we were at his apartment. There we met his girlfriend Chiara and had some late afternoon snacks (almonds and spicy chip-cracker things) along with coffee.

We went out later that night, probably around 8:00 or 9:00, to meet some of Cosimo’s friends: Tosco “The Tuscan” and Giovanni, “the Yugoslavian,” who isn’t really Yugoslavian. We met them at a café on the corner of Via del Partello and Via Paradiso, just across from the Tribunale per i minorenni di Bologna (the juvenile court of Bologna). The entire length of the street of Via del Partello appeared to be located in a bar district with lots of foot traffic. The cafe served pizza and craft beer.

Tosco and Giovanni were not impressed by either the beer or the pizza. And soon enough I spilled the first half of my second beer on the last slices of pizza; so we finished our grub and moved on.

Giovanni said something like: “Texas, eh? Tony Lama boots, right?” and I replied with something like: “Yeah, those are the Gucci of cowboy boots.”

We made our way down Via del Partello for a few blocks until its intersection with Via San Rocco. Here we entered a techno music club–combination record store called Quattro Quarti (Four-by-Four).

I tried ordering a beer at the club, but it was cash only and I had yet to exchange any dollars for euros. So I thanked the bartender but declined the drink, then, about five minutes later, the bartender enters the dance floor (where I was standing, not dancing), hands me a free beer. Cosimo says: “It’s probably because you’re a tourist.”

Later at that same club we were all given a glass of champagne by one of a group of folks celebrating someone’s birthday. We were also offered a spliff outside the club, and later walking home Cosimo noted that, in terms of the crowd and enthusiasm at club Quattro Quarti, tonight was exceptionally festive.

We got home around two or three in the morning, and began a pattern of ending each evening (or morning) in Italy with a cup of tea.

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(club Quattro Quarti)

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(Vinyl from Quattro QuartiI don’t remember a suicide scene in “Rocky”)

 (Read “Adventure Italia: Day 2 of 9″ here)


Oct 21 2015

Texas Hawks & Greek Omens

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That’s a broad-winged hawk, making a pit stop here at the University of Texas at Austin, probably before heading to Mexico for the winter.

In literature, particularly the Hellenic variety, bird-is-the-word, that is,  any unusual sighting or behavior of a feathered figure, was taken to be an omen for something:

[230] Then with an angry glance from beneath his brows spake to him Hector of the flashing helm: “Polydamas, this that thou sayest is no longer to my pleasure; yea, thou knowest how to devise better words than these. But if thou verily speakest thus in earnest, then of a surety have the gods themselves destroyed thy wits, [235] seeing thou biddest me forget the counsels of loud-thundering Zeus, that himself promised me and bowed his head thereto. But thou biddest us be obedient to birds long of wing, that I regard not, nor take thought thereof, whether they fare to the right, toward the Dawn and the sun, [240] or to the left toward the murky darkness. nay, for us, let us be obedient to the counsel of great Zeus, that is king over all mortals and immortals. One omen is best, to fight for one’s country. Wherefore dost thou fear war and battle? [245] For if the rest of us be slain one and all at the ships of the Argives, yet is there no fear that thou shouldest perish,—for thy heart is—not staunch in fight nor warlike.

(Homer, Iliad, (XII, 230–45) in The Iliad with an English Translation by A.T. Murray, Ph.D. in two volumes. Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1924. )

Here, Hektor’s rebuke against the interpretation of the eagle-serpent omen basically seems to say, “I have what God/Zeus told me—and because I already have it, signs and omens and interpretations thereof mean nothing.”

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The Odyssey is bookend with bird omens, beginning with Book II:

Without atonement then should ye perish within my halls.” So spoke Telemachus, and in answer Zeus, whose voice is borne afar,1 sent forth two eagles, flying from on high, from a mountain peak. For a time they flew swift as the blasts of the wind side by side with wings outspread; [150] but when they reached the middle of the many-voiced assembly, then they wheeled about, flapping their wings rapidly, and down on the heads of all they looked, and death was in their glare. Then they tore with their talons one another’s cheeks and necks on either side, and darted away to the right across the houses and the city of the men. [155] But they were seized with wonder at the birds when their eyes beheld them, and pondered in their hearts on what was to come to pass. Then among them spoke the old lord Halitherses, son of Mastor, for he surpassed all men of his day in knowledge of birds and in uttering words of fate. [160] He with good intent addressed their assembly, and spoke among them: “Hearken now to me, men of Ithaca, to the word that I shall say; and to the wooers especially do I declare and announce these things, since on them a great woe is rolling. For Odysseus shall not long be away from his friends, but even now, methinks, [165] he is near, and is sowing death and fate for these men, one and all. Aye, and to many others of us also who dwell in clear-seen Ithaca will he be a bane. But long ere that let us take thought how we may make an end of this—or rather let them of themselves make an end, for this is straightway the better course for them. [170] Not as one untried do I prophesy, but with sure knowledge. For unto Odysseus I declare that all things are fulfilled even as I told him, when the Argives embarked for Ilios and with them went Odysseus of many wiles. I declared that after suffering many ills and losing all his comrades he would come home in the twentieth year [175] unknown to all; and lo, all this is now being brought to pass.” (Homer, Odyssey, II, 150-75) The Odyssey with an English Translation by A.T. Murray, PH.D. in two volumes. Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1919.)

Then again at Book XX:

[240] Thus they spoke to one another, but the wooers meanwhile were plotting death and fate for Telemachus; howbeit there came to them a bird on their left, an eagle of lofty flight, clutching a timid dove. Then Amphinomus spoke in their assembly, and said: [245] “Friends, this plan of ours will not run to our liking, even the slaying of Telemachus; nay, let us bethink us of the feast.” (Homer, Odyssey, XX, 240-45)

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Centuries later, Plutarch imparts:

But when they set out to establish their city, a dispute at once arose concerning the site. Romulus, accordingly, built Roma Quadrata (which means square),and wished to have the city on that site; but Remus laid out a strong precinct on the Aventine hill, which was named from him Remonium, but now is called Rignarium.

Agreeing to settle their quarrel by the flight of birds of omen,1 and taking their seats on the ground apart from one another, six vultures, they say, were seen by Remus, and twice that number by Romulus. Some, however, say that whereas Remus truly saw his six, Romulus lied about his twelve, but that when Remus came to him, then he did see the twelve. Hence it is that at the present time also the Romans chiefly regard vultures when they take auguries from the flight of birds.

Herodorus Ponticus relates that Hercules also was glad to see a vulture present itself when he was upon an exploit. For it is the least harmful of all creatures, injures no grain, fruit-tree, or cattle, and lives on carrion. But it does not kill or maltreat anything that has life, and as for birds, it will not touch them even when they are dead, since they are of its own species. But eagles, owls, and hawks smite their own kind when alive, and kill them. And yet, in the words of Aeschylus:—1

How shall a bird that preys on fellow bird be clean?

Besides, other birds are, so to speak, always in our eyes, and let themselves be seen continually; but the vulture is a rare sight, and it is not easy to come upon a vulture’s young, nay, some men have been led into a strange suspicion that the birds come from some other and foreign land to visit us here, so rare and intermittent is their appearance, which soothsayers think should be true of what does not present itself naturally, nor spontaneously, but by a divine sending (Plutarch a.k.a Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus, Parallel Lives – Volume I. Translated by Bernadotte Perrin. Loeb’s: Harvard UP. 1928. 1982. “Romulus,” ix, 3–7, pp. 115–17)

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Jul 31 2015

The Benedict Option: Cheerleading from the Sideline

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Over at The American Conservative Rod Dreher, who has previously written how the upcoming generations have lost faith and trust in all institutions, has now written a post showing that some inside the clergy and clerisy can properly diagnose their own symptoms, so perhaps the Benedict Option is the proper remedy for cleaning house.

As part of the under-40 crowd, I confess to being completely weary of all bureaucracy, a weariness I suspect comes from being institutionalized in childhood by small town Texas teachers, preachers, and coaches.

The feeling of graduating university made me understand the lines from the old time hymn “like a bird from prison bars has flown, I’ll fly away”—it was (and remains) particularly refreshing to be able to read books of one’s own choosing—at one’s own pace––rather than being assigned a text on the whims of a bureaucrat and having to rush through it.

Now as an adult (or at least one in disguise) I choose to opt out of the idolatry of religion (in its old, etymological sense of “binding” as well as its modern meanings of “just another bureaucracy” and “authority-for-authority’s-sake”) and am attempting to opt in to authentic encounters in the I-You mode of discourse used by individuals while, at the same time, attempting to resist the I-It mode of “discord” practiced by all modern institutions (schools, religions, hospitals, sports, national media).

The BenOp may not be for me, but from the sidelines I’m willing to cheer for anything that actively deconstructs any kind of bureaucracy in its resistance to that bureaucracy.


Jun 7 2010

School Bullies: Texas State Board of Education (Burnt Orange Report)

At this point, it is useless to get mired in the specifics of the damaged curriculum, after the board’s “death by a thousand cuts.”

Sorry, Rebecca Bell Metereau, but this is exactly wrong. Call me crazy, but it’s impossible to have an intellectual conversation concerning the fate of future intellectuals if you refuse to address “the specifics of the damanged curriculum.” And if you’re not going to have an intellectual conversation, you might as well nominate yourself for a place on the SBOE.

via Burnt Orange Report: School Bullies: Texas State Board of Education.


Jun 7 2010

The Twilight of Textbooks in Texas (Final Thoughts on the State Board of Education)

I should confess that, being a product of the public education systems of Texas, Bookbread is prone to assume a topic in haste followed by a knee-jerk response. Despite this disclosure, I, Bookbread, stand correct in my assertion that the recent revision to the social studies curriculum by the Texas State Board of Education [SBOE] will implant Things-that-are-Not into these textbooks, particularly when the SBOE replaces the term “capitalism” for “free enterprise system” and obscures, and thereby devalues, the concept of a separation of church from state [01].

After accepting Ann Althouse’s dare [02], and having read the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills [TEKS] documents from the links she provided, Bookbread believes this data only confirms my earlier accusation of the elaborated couching of terminology concerning a “free enterprise system” and the dithering of teaching concepts involving the separation of many churches and religions from a single nation-state. While TEKS does acknowledge “capitalism” as a legitimate synonym for “free enterprise system” [03] such a system, as taught according to TEKS, focuses only the positive aspects and consequences of free enterprise, implying that such a system is infallible [04].

Bookbread concedes that the TEKS display multiple moments of teaching diversification and multiculturalism where the concept of a separation of church and state (the unique segregation of many religions from a single government under one constitution) might indeed be a relevant, overlapping topic of discussion [05]. But other than one mention in one high school class of the Supreme Court case of Engel v. Vitale concerning school prayer, throughout TEKS, there is no specific focus on the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom via said separation even when other First Amendment rights are specified and elaborated upon [06].

Yet at the end of the day, one can be thankful upon realizing that, in its policies, SBOE has provided an avenue towards a kind of self-criticism within its TEKS texts—a path towards criticizing the way this bureaucracy has institutionalized conformity regarding two concepts: one, of a free enterprise system as infallible, and two, the separation of church and state as obscure. Such a path is to be found in the SBOE’s high school psychology requirements: “The student will understand the influence of society and culture on behavior and cognition. The student is expected to: explore the nature and effects of bias and discrimination [and] describe circumstances in which conformity and obedience are likely to occur,” [07].

Notes

[01] See BookbreadsThe Lies in Textbooks are Upon You.”

[02] See Ann Althouse’s “If you’re going to criticize the new social studies curriculum adopted by the Texas Board of Education, you’d better quote it.”

[03] Everything below comes from 3 PDF documents: Economics with Emphasis on the Free Enterprise System and Its Benefits Subchapter A. High School; Social Studies Subchapter B. Middle School; Social Studies Subchapter C. High School.)

See [§113.46. Sociology (One-Half Credit), Beginning with School Year 2011-2012, (b) Introduction, (3)]: “Students identify the role of the free enterprise system within the parameters of this course and understand that this system may also be referenced as capitalism or the free market system.” However, this is an elective half-credit for high school. It is only after passing the middle school and [§113.41. United States History Studies Since 1877 (One Credit), Beginning with School Year 2011-2012] are students first exposed to, according to the TEKS, of the legitimacy of this synonym.

[04] An example of attaching an aura of infallibility to the concept of a “free enterprise system” can be found in [§113.41. United States History Studies Since 1877 (One Credit), Beginning with School Year 2011-2012, (c) Knowledge and skills, (16) Economics] where we learn:

“The student understands significant economic developments between World War I and World War II. The student is expected to”:

(A) analyze causes of economic growth and prosperity in the 1920s, including Warren Harding’s Return to Normalcy, reduced taxes, and increased production efficiencies;

(B) identify the causes of the Great Depression, including the impact of tariffs on world trade, stock market speculation, bank failures, and the flawed monetary policy of the Federal Reserve System;

(C) analyze the effects of the Great Depression on the U.S. economy and society such as widespread unemployment and deportation and repatriation of people of European and Mexican heritage and others;

(D) compare the New Deal policies and its opponents’ approaches to resolving the economic effects of the Great Depression; and

(E) describe how various New Deal agencies and programs, including the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Social Security Administration, continue to affect the lives of U.S. citizens.

(17) Economics. The student understands the economic effects of World War II & the Cold War. The student is expected to:

(E) describe the dynamic relationship between U.S. international trade policies and the U.S. free enterprise system such as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil embargo, the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

So that when talking about failures of free enterprise such as Great Depression, the SBOE couches the language of TEKS by not specifying what failed within (or because of) the current free enterprise system and why the country felt the need to amend the system after these failures occurred. Or does TEKS assume students will intuit “the flawed monetary policy of the Federal Reserve System” as an example of a kind of failure of (or in) our free enterprise system?—as when it suggests in [§118.1. Implementation of Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Economics with Emphasis on the Free Enterprise System and Its Benefits, High School, (c) Knowledge and skills, (6) Economics]:

“The student understands the basic characteristics and benefits of a free enterprise system. The student is expected to”:

(A) explain the basic characteristics of the U.S. free enterprise system, including private property, incentives, economic freedom, competition, and the limited role of government;

(B) explain the benefits of the U.S. free enterprise system, including individual freedom of consumers and producers, variety of goods, responsive prices, investment opportunities, and the creation of wealth;

(12) Economics. The student understands the role of money in an economy. The student is expected to:

(A) describe the functions of money;

(B) describe the characteristics of money;

(C) analyze the costs and benefits of commodity money, fiat money, and representative money; and

(D) examine the positive and negative aspects of barter, currency, credit cards, and debit cards.

One would think SBOE would have sorted all this out—particularly when they bothered to add to ibid.:

(22) Social studies skills. The student communicates in written, oral, and visual forms. The student is expected to:

(A) use economic-related terminology correctly;

[05] Despite the lambasts of other bloggers (see note 4 of BookbreadsThe Lies in Textbooks are Upon You”), Bookbread is in no way accusing SBOE of xenophobia, when all evidence in TEKS suggests otherwise:

§113.18. Social Studies, Grade 6, Beginning with School Year 20112012.

(b) Knowledge and skills.

(15) Culture. The student understands the similarities and differences within and among cultures in various societies. The student is expected to:

(C) define a multicultural society and consider both the positive and negative qualities of multiculturalism;

(D) analyze the experiences and evaluate the contributions of diverse groups to multicultural societies;

(16) Culture. The student understands that all societies have basic institutions in common even though the characteristics of these institutions may differ. The student is expected to:

(A) identify institutions basic to all societies, including government, economic, educational, and religious institutions;

(B) compare characteristics of institutions in various contemporary societies; and

(C) analyze the efforts and activities institutions use to sustain themselves over time such as the development of an informed citizenry through education and the use of monumental architecture by religious institutions.

(20) Science, technology, and society. The student understands the influences of science and technology on contemporary societies. The student is expected to:

(B) explain how resources, belief systems, economic factors, and political decisions have affected the use of technology;

§113.41. United States History Studies Since 1877 (One Credit), Beginning with School Year 2011-2012.

(c) Knowledge and skills.

(7) History. The student understands the domestic and international impact of U.S. participation in World War II. The student is expected to:

(D) analyze major issues of World War II, including the Holocaust; the internment of Japanese, German, and Italian Americans; and the development of conventional and atomic weapons;

(26) Culture. The student understands how people from various groups contribute to our national identity. The student is expected to:

(A) explain actions taken by people to expand economic opportunities and political rights, including those for racial, ethnic, and religious minorities as well as women, in American society;

(C) explain how the contributions of people of various racial, ethnic, gender, and religious groups shape American culture;

§113.46. Sociology (One-Half Credit), Beginning with School Year 2011-2012.

(c) Knowledge and skills.

(15) Social institutions. The student identifies the basic social institutions of education and religion and explain their influence on society. The student is expected to:

(C) examine religion from the sociological point of view;

(D) analyze the functions of society and the basic societal needs that religion serves; and

(E) compare and contrast distinctive features of religion in the United States with religion in other societies.

See also [§113.42. World History Studies (One Credit), Beginning with School Year 2011-2012, (c) Knowledge and skills] and [§113.43. World Geography Studies (One Credit), Beginning with School Year 2011-2012, (c) Knowledge and skills].

[06] In [§113.18. Social Studies, Grade 6, Beginning with School Year 20112012, (b) Knowledge and skills, (19) Culture] We learn that “The student understands the relationships among religion, philosophy, and culture” but for some reason the SBOE omitted the relationship of government to “religion, philosophy and culture.” In other instances, the curriculum appear well-balanced and thorough, except for the de-emphasis and sometimes omission of specifying the separation of religion from government when teaching on the First Amendment. This is most particularly evident in [§113.44. United States Government (One-Half Credit), Beginning with School Year 2011-2012, (c) Knowledge and skills. (16) Citizenship, (B)] where we read: “The student understands the importance of the expression of different points of view in a constitutional republic. The student is expected to: analyze the importance of the First Amendment rights of petition, assembly, speech, and press and the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms” but the specific mention of freedom of religion is omitted. This is the attitudinal pattern of the SBOE repeated throughout TEKS (with the single exception of Engle v. Vitale):

§113.20. Social Studies, Grade 8, Beginning with School Year 2011-2012.

(b) Knowledge and skills.

(15) Government. The student understands the American beliefs and principles reflected in the U.S. Constitution and other important historic documents. The student is expected to:

(A) identify the influence of ideas from historic documents, including Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, the Mayflower Compact, The Wealth of Nations, the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, and selected anti-federalist writings, on the U.S. system of government;

(B) summarize the strengths and weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation;

(C) identify colonial grievances listed in the Declaration of Independence and explain how those grievances were addressed in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights; and

(D) analyze how the U.S. Constitution reflects the principles of limited government, republicanism, checks and balances, federalism, separation of powers, popular sovereignty, and individual rights.

(16) Government. The student understands the process of changing the U.S. Constitution and the impact of amendments on American society. The student is expected to:

(A) summarize the purposes for and process of amending the U.S. Constitution;

(19) Citizenship. The student understands the rights and responsibilities of citizens of the United States. The student is expected to:

(B) summarize rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights;

(25) Culture. The student understands the impact of religion on the American way of life. The student is expected to:

(A) trace the development of religious freedom in the United States;

(B) describe religious motivation for immigration and influence on social movements, including the impact of the first and second Great Awakenings; and

(C) analyze the impact of the First Amendment guarantees of religious freedom on the American way of life.

§113.44. United States Government (One-Half Credit), Beginning with School Year 2011-2012.

(c) Knowledge and skills.

(1) History. The student understands how constitutional government, as developed in America and expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the U.S. Constitution, has been influenced by ideas, people, and historical documents. The student is expected to:

(A) explain major political ideas in history, including the laws of nature and nature’s God, unalienable rights, divine right of kings, social contract theory, and the rights of resistance to illegitimate government;

(7) Government. The student understands the American beliefs and principles reflected in the U.S. Constitution and why these are significant. The student is expected to:

(D) evaluate constitutional provisions for limiting the role of government, including republicanism, checks and balances, federalism, separation of powers, popular sovereignty, and individual rights;

(8) Government. The student understands the structure and functions of the government created by the U.S. Constitution. The student is expected to:

(H) compare the structures, functions, and processes of the national, state, and local governments in the U.S. federal system.

(13) Citizenship. The student understands rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The student is expected to:

(A) understand the roles of limited government and the rule of law in the protection of individual rights;

(B) identify and define the unalienable rights;

(C) identify the freedoms and rights guaranteed by each amendment in the Bill of Rights;

(D) analyze U.S. Supreme Court interpretations of rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution in selected cases, including Engel v. Vitale, Schenck v. U.S., Texas v. Johnson, Miranda v. Arizona, Gideon v. Wainwright, Mapp v. Ohio, and Roe v. Wade;

(E) explain the importance of due process rights to the protection of individual rights and in limiting the powers of government; and

(F) recall the conditions that produced the 14th Amendment and describe subsequent efforts to selectively extend some of the Bill of Rights to the states, including the Blaine Amendment and U.S. Supreme Court rulings, and analyze the impact on the scope of fundamental rights and federalism.

(16) Citizenship. The student understands the importance of the expression of different points of view in a constitutional republic. The student is expected to:

(B) analyze the importance of the First Amendment rights of petition, assembly, speech, and press and the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. [But no religion]

[07] §113.45. Psychology (One-Half Credit), Beginning with School Year 2011-2012:

(c) Knowledge and skills.

(13) The individual in society. The student will understand the influence of society and culture on behavior and cognition. The student is expected to:

(B) explore the nature and effects of bias and discrimination;

(C) describe circumstances in which conformity and obedience are likely to occur;

One might also examine:

§113.44. United States Government (One-Half Credit), Beginning with School Year 2011-2012.

(c) Knowledge and skills.

(20) Social studies skills. The student applies critical-thinking skills to organize and use information acquired from a variety of valid sources, including electronic technology. The student is expected to:

(D) analyze and evaluate the validity of information, arguments, and counterarguments from primary and secondary sources for bias, propaganda, point of view, and frame of reference.


Jun 1 2010

“¡Viva Data Libre!” (The Texas Tribune)

All Bookbread can say is muchas gracias for this streamlined collection of public data on the State of Texas, including many metrics helpful for understanding the SBOE and the twilight of textbooks in Texas. This is true twentyfirst century journalism.

The Texas Tribune contends: “We hope to have about 7 million records available to the public by year’s end.” Memorial Data | The Texas Tribune.


Apr 20 2010

The Lies in Textbooks are Upon You

Recently the Texas State Board of Education [SBOE] voted to approve changes to the social studies textbooks of the state’s schoolchildren. These changes will now task students to read several Things-That-Are-Not [TITANs].[01] For example, instead of calling capitalism capitalism, it will now be known as something that it is not, so that the textbooks of Texas will print “free enterprise system” instead of “capitalism”.[02]

The Board also approved revisions that would skew the historical context of the phrase “separation of church and state,” substituting it also with a TITAN, perhaps a “unity of church and state.”[03] After all, the integration of church and state carries benefits aplenty—what could possibly go wrong in suggesting the merger of those who are exempt from taxes with those who collect them?

I am frankly appalled at the language spewed forth as a result of the Board’s new policies.[04] Why tote such loaded words? Already the students of Texas are adapted to high levels of TITAN exposure through journalism, advertising, other forms of mass media, and professional sports.[05] Surely kids can handle a few more TITANs in their lives—why shouldn’t their textbooks be infiltrated as well?

This is not to suggest that the SBOE’s new policy will transmit any kind of reason to its students. For reason (wisdom, logic) is always good, otherwise it would always be good to always be unreasonable—yes, this occurs hourly on cable news, but thankfully no reasonable American watches it)[06]—but to advocate children to believe in TITANs cannot be called reasonable. It instead cloaks the Board’s will to increase the ignorance of the Texas public student populous.

But just because the SBOE’s policy prevents the promotion of reason does not mean that a lack of reason can be blamed for its policy. The SBOE’s underlying reason for approving its new book policy emerges easily to any onlooker: by nurturing Texas schoolchildren with standards of the past, such students might further be inspired to rise up, radicalize, and protest—the same way their hippy grandparents did in the 1960s.[07] Only by spotlighting Phyllis Schlafly, the Moral Majority, the Contract With America, or the NRA can the SBOE point the schoolchildren of Texas towards their proper twenty-first century scapegoats.

It is truly conservative to preserve a textbook tradition that provokes radical protest. The Board has seen the results. They know these methods work, and it is time to apply them again, particularly when there is no fear of this tradition spreading to other states.[08] One should thank God for blessing Texas with such a bureaucracy as the SBOE and its TITAN-ic policies.


Notes

[01] The source for this terminology comes from Jonathan Swift’s Gullivers Travels (1726), Part IV, Chapter V. But there is also Plato’s Cratylus which tells us:

Nor can we reasonably say [that] there is knowledge at all, if everything is in a state of transition and there is nothing abiding; for knowledge too cannot continue to be knowledge unless continuing always to abide and exist. But if the very nature of knowledge changes, at the time when the change occurs there will be no knowledge; and if the transition is always going on, there will always be no knowledge, and, according to this view, there will be no one to know and nothing to be known.  [Plato. Cratylus. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. The Dialogues of Plato Translated into English. (1892). Vol. 1. Third Edition. Oxford, UP. p. 388. on Google Books.]

So we may take it that the very nature of the knowledge of capitalism will change when it is no longer called such. Compare also Plato’s Meno:

For this is what our discussion is really about—not if there are or have been good men here, but if virtue can be taught—that is what we have been considering for so long. And the point we are considering is just this: whether the good men of these times and of former times knew how to hand on to another that virtue in which they were good, or whether it cannot be handed on from one man to another, or received by one man from another.  [Plato. Meno. In Great Dialogues of Plato. Translated by W.H.D. Rouse, Twelfth Printing, (1956) New American Library. (92B–93E) p. 59.]

One generation cannot handoff to the next any knowledge of capitalism or a “separation of church and state” if the nature of the knowledge of these things has already changed. Hence these things (capitalism and the separation of church and state) become Things-That-They-Are-Not [TITANs].

[02] Coverage on the “free enterprise” / “capitalism” distinction for the textbooks of Texas is wide and varied:

[SBOE chairman] Lowe’s most fraught vote came when she supported the move by Board Member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, to remove references to “capitalism” in the standards, using instead the phrase “free enterprise.”

Last summer, a compromise had been struck with the group of teachers writing the economics standards about how to refer to the country’s economic system. The challenge was finding a term that conformed both with common academic language and the state law, which calls for the use of “free enterprise.” The result was the phrase “U.S. free enterprise (capitalist, free market) system.

Cumbersome, indeed. But Mercer’s objection was not about the economy of language. It was ideological.

The word “capitalism” has a negative connotation and the standards should not apologize for the nation’s free enterprise system, he said.

And Board member Terri Leo, R-Spring, agreed.

“I do think that words means things,” Leo said. “I see no need, frankly, to compromise with liberal professors from academia,” who have written “distorted and liberal textbooks.”  [“SBOE chairwoman tips balance for conservative votes” by Kate Alexander of the Austin American Statesmans politics and government blog Postcards (03/11/10).]

A majority of the State Board of Education decided Texas students should be shielded from exposure to the perfectly good word “capitalism” — one frequently heard in college-level economics classes. Why? Because member Terri Leo, R-Spring, doesn’t like the sound of it.  [“When God was handing out brains…” an op-ed in the (03/27/10) Austin American Statesman.]

When [the SBOE] instructs textbook writers to always use the term “free-enterprise” and never the term “capitalism,” it isn’t doing so because it feels solicitude for imperialists or the big-money set.

Heavens no. Board members are doing it to vindicate the little guy, to wrest the language away from an intellectual elite. As Don McLeroy, one of the leaders of the board’s conservative faction, put it in last year’s debate over evolution, “somebody’s got to stand up to experts.”  [“Don’t mess with the Texas Board of Ed” an op-ed by Thomas Frank in The Wall Street Journal political blog Opinion Journal (03/17/10).]

[03] Coverage over the outcry of the phrase “separation of church and state” also runs plentiful:

“I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state,” Board member David Bradley said. “I have $1,000 for the charity of your choice if you can find it in the Constitution.”  [“Conservatives on Texas Panel Carry the Day on Curriculum Change” by James C. McKinley Jr., New York Times. 03/13/10. Section A; Column 0; National Desk; p. 10.]

SBOE chairman Gail Lowe insists:

“A critical priority of the State Board of Education in our revision of the curriculum standards has been to emphasize the founding documents, such as the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution. We believe students need a stronger grasp of the freedoms guaranteed in these documents. The First Amendment very clearly prevents Congress from establishing a national church, but it also promotes the free exercise of religion. Students need to understand that this is what the founders intended.

“It is inaccurate to say the founding fathers were neutral about religion; most were strong proponents of religious faith but did not believe in a national church controlled by the federal government.”  [“Q&A: Texas Board of Education Chairman” from in The Baptist Press, by Jerry Pierce of the Southern Baptist Texan (03/29/10).]

Yet Lowe’s comments would not rule out the possibility for teaching through textbooks an advocacy for state churches, county churches, school district churches etc. And because of things like—

“The conservative faction handily defeated an amendment that would have required children to learn the significance of the separation of church and state and rejected several attempts to include more minorities in the curriculum.”  [“Education board OKs changes” by Zahira Torres of the El Paso Times (03/13/10).]

Board members defeated an amendment by member Mavis Knight, D-Dallas, that would have required students to examine the reasons the Founding Fathers “protected religious freedom in America by barring government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion over all others.”

The seven social conservatives on the panel—several of whom openly question the legal precedents affirming the separation of church and state—were joined by the three moderate Republicans in voting no.  [“Texas education board refuses to require religious-freedom lesson” by Terrence Stutz of the Dallas Morning News (03/12/10).]

—it can be reasonably concluded that the SBOE “have deleted [references] to church-state separation.”  [“Analysis: Texas influence on national textbook market is small and shrinking” from the Texas on the Potomac blog of the Houston Chronicle, analysis provided by Brian Thevenot of the Texas Tribune (03/29/10).]

Even Baptists groups were dismayed. See “Baptists decry Texas education board’s curriculum votes” by Robert Marus of The Baptist Standard (03/16/10).

[04] Examples of such appalling language appear endless, beginning with mild exaggeration such as Mike Chapman’s post “Stop the schoolyard bullies of the SBOE” on Burnt Orange Blog (03/26/10): “the SBOE are systematically engaging in an extreme ideological agenda in an effort to skew history,” to the slightly silly title for Robert McHenry’s post “The Creedalists” at American.com, (03/25/10).

Yet fiercer language abounds. Take for instance the op-ed “When God was handing out brains...” in the Austin American Statesman (03/27/10) and its use of phrases like, “a jihad against knowledge” and “handicapping Texas students.” Or “Don’t mess with the Texas Board of Ed,” an op-ed by Thomas Frank in The Wall Street Journals political blog Opinion Journal (03/17/10) that spews: “the proceedings appear like a sort of Texas inquisition.”

[05] In journalism, take Jason Blair, the Balloon Boy saga, or the yet-to-be-found (though thoroughly reported on) WMDs of Iraq. Even so, the public students of Texas are completely used to TITANs in other forms of mass media such as the fake violence of some video games, or the false sense of creativity felt when playing Guitar Hero, or reality’s clash with Disney’s aesthetics and ethics via the pretended powers of characters and superheroes in movies and comic books. In professional sports, take not only the steroids scandals throughout the Olympics and Major League Baseball, but the fact that some ballplayers perjured themselves before Congress and with no apparent consequence. Kids in the twenty-first century are inundated with Things-That-Are-Not (TITANs) so why should the content of their textbooks be any different?

[06] Terry McDermott’s “Dumb Like a Fox.” Columbia Journalism Review for March/April 2010 recently notes:

Cable news is not literally a broadcast business, but a narrowcast. At any given moment, there are a relative handful of people (in peak hours less than five million and in non-prime hours half that, out of the U.S. population of 320 million) watching all of these networks combined. American Idol, in contrast, routinely draws 30 million.

One need only look at the recent example of CNN’s audience decline for further support of McDermott’s observations.

[07] Robert McHenry makes this point in his post “The Creedalists” at American.com, a magazine published by the American Enterprise Institute:

Does the Texas board member pause to reflect that those radicals of the ’60s were schooled on the textbooks of the Eisenhower years? Perhaps not. That they then went off to college, discovered that a few facts had been omitted from their schooling, and promptly made a fetish of them? Does [SBOE member Don McLeroy] stop for just a moment to wonder if what he is doing now is likely to have the desired effect?

[08] See note 3 above of Brian Thevenot’s comments in: “Analysis: Texas influence on national textbook market is small and shrinking.”


Mar 10 2010

Nurturing Apathy (After Reading About the Textbooks of Texas)

The dead can be read by allstill, the literary lives of Texans continue to decay.

After reading posts on both the Houston Chronicles Texas on the Potomac Blog, “
Poll: 30% of Texans Believe Humans and Dinosaurs Lived Together” and Paul Burka’sDispatches in the Evolution at Texas Monthly‘s political blog, Bookbread now finds comfort in:

  • the certainty that our state’s educational standards will continue to erode.
  • knowing that anyone passing through the twenty-first century public school systems of Texas will never produce a work of literature worth reading, or discover a finding in science worth reviewing, or engineer a stack of Lincoln logs worth burning.
  • knowing that there’s nothing to be gained by keeping twenty-first century students latched inside the public school systems of Texas.

After reading Russell Shorto’s article of the New York Times: “How Christian Were the Founders?Bookbread should point out that it doesn’t matter how Christian the founders were, or the amount of Christian-ness that Texans claim the founders had because that great avenger, Apathy, assures us that whatever is taught will not be learned.

After reading an editorial in the Beaufort Observer, Spanish on State Websites“, Bookbread must note: What does it matter? If a fiscally broke state (such as North Carolina or Texas) has no government services to offer its citizens, who cares in what language such denials-of-service come packaged? Aren’t folks free to let Google auto-translate the articulations of government inefficiencies should they feel the need?

After reading Sara Mead at Eduwonk and her article “I Will Avoid Putting a Silly Headline Here About Messing With Texas“:

I tend to agree with Tom Vander Ark that some of the issues specific to the Texas Board of Ed’s ability to dictate the content of the nation’s textbooks through its textbook adoption process will eventually be rendered obsolete by evolutions in digital learning and print-on-demand–which will also be good things more generally for the quality of instructional materials in schools, not to mention children’s backs as they’ll have fewer ginormous [sic] textbooks to lug around.

Bookbread has yet to put his faith in evolutions in digital learning and print-on-demand“—because regardless of the rate of evolution for digital printing, who’s to say whether such a rate will (or ever has) correlated with the rate of demand for print-on-demand? Who’s to say the rate of demand for print-on-demand products won’t perpetually decrease even as the rate of evolution for digital products continues to increase?

After reading Gary Scharrer of the San Antonio ExpresssGovernor Candidates Silent on School Reform“, Bookbread comprehends how stagnation remains the status quo for the public school systems of Texas. Thankfully, such comprehension comes as no surprise, for we Texans have always cherished our love affair with apathy. After all, both individuals and states cannot remain independent when they lack apathy for others.


Feb 12 2010

Reading is Soooo Retro

21st Century Literacy Log has some info from her post “Building Deeper Readers” and provides a few interesting phrases for the current phase of twenty-first century fiction:

….”Endangered species—Perhaps most endangered of all . . . the adolescent reader….

“….readicide”

“….Rather than lift up struggling readers, an emphasis on test prep ensures struggling readers will continue to struggle….”

In plain polemic: Readicide remains rampant across America, but should Texans worry? Can’t the clerics of twenty-first century Texas strive to function as technocratic gatekeepers of internet methods, software grammar, and the laws of search to the illiterate demos? Can’t we all guard each other’s gate as in Kafka’s parable of Before the Law (1925)? What’s wrong with a twenty-first century writer “doing his own thing” if it involves only one of the various types of reading, writing or technology skills? Readicide?—please. Bookbread says, “Bring it on.”

Some of 21st‘s notes on educating aptly apply to current students of Texas public schools, considering their reading habits.

“In short, all this emphasis on test prep plays a large part in maintaining ‘apartheid schools….'”

Bookbread can’t vouch for the accuracy of this assertion—I seem to recall that apartheid schools (ethnically and scholastically) were maintained by the state well before the modern era of public education and its emphasis on test prepping. Who’s to say there won’t be “apartheid schools” once citizens grown bored with spending their time and money on test prepping and standardization? Again, from 21st‘s notes:

“Remember: WYTIWYG (‘witty-wig’)—’What You Test Is What You Get.'”

This assertion appears accurate in so far as it demonstrates the current need for test-teachers, reading teachers, writing teachers, etc.

Texas, moreover, will focus on test-teachers and student testers. Its graduates will know how to take (i.e. read questions and write answers for) a Texas test. Beyond that, who’s to say?


Feb 1 2010

Texans and their Reading Habits: from Playground to Prison Yard

From an editorial in the Amarillo GlobeNews, “Social Studies Curriculum,” the current chairwoman of the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE), Gail Lowe, recounts recent rumors and outright lies concerning the omission of various VIPs from the next batch of social studies textbooks soon to be printed for the state’s public schools. Lowe tactfully reminds invested Texans, as well as outside onlookers:

[In] Texas, students spend two full yearsfourth grade and seventh gradelearning about our state and its founding. That study could not be done effectively without students knowing the contributions of Cabeza de Vaca, Francisco Coronado, Jose de Escandon, Martin de Leon, Antonio Margil de Jesus, Francisco Hidalgo, Erasmo Seguin, Juan Seguin, Jose Antonio Navarro and Lorenzo de Zavalaall significant Latinos who played a pivotal role in our history.

Lowe then restates the aim of the SBOE:

Our focus is on a general diffusion of knowledge about history and the free-enterprise system, not on the politics of racial or cultural division. It is unfortunate that news reports are not focused on the same goal for Texas students.

But after reading a report, “New Statewide Achievement Tests to Replace TAKS” on the Austin American Statemens Homeroom Blog, readers are tempted to ask: Why bother worrying over schoolbooks when Texas students are solely focused on finding a way to adequately pass standardized tests? Such a question might nag readers, particularly after scanning over a chronology of these ever-changing tests, in all their dismal glory (provided by the Statesmans blog):

Texas Assessment of Basic Skills—The TABS, in use from 1980 to 1985, was the first state-mandated test administered to students in grades 3, 5 and 9 in reading, mathematics and writing.

Texas Educational Assessment of Minimum Skills—The TEAMS was used from 1986 to 1990 and tested reading, mathematics and writing in grades 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11. The TEAMS was the first state test students were required to pass to earn a diploma.

Texas Assessment of Academic Skills—The TAAS, in use from 1990 to 2002, tested reading, mathematics and writing. The TAAS was ultimately given to students in grades 3 to 8 and 10. Additionally, eighth-grade students were tested in science and social studies, and Spanish-language tests were available for students in grades 3 to 6. Four end-of-course exams provided an optional method for meeting graduation requirements.

Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills—The TAKS, in use from 2003 to the present, assesses students in grades 3 to 11 in mathematics, reading, writing, English/language arts, science and social studies. Student promotion is tied to test results for students in grades 3, 5 and 8. The TAKS expanded graduation requirements to include English/language arts, mathematics, science and social studies.

In related readings, Eric Dexheimer, at the Austin American Statesman, reports on “Banned in Texas prisons: books and magazines that many would consider classics” whereupon readers realize that—when it comes to reading lists and content choices in Texasit is perpetually becoming more difficult to tell the difference between the state’s public school students and its prisoners. Readers might conclude that the kind of librarian skills exhibited by prisoner Andy Dufresne at Shawshank wouldn’t exactly be welcomed at any facility run by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

In other readings, a book review of William P. Young’s “The Shack—The Missing Art of Evangelical Discernment” by Albert Molher, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (in Kentucky not Texas):

The Shack [(2007)] is a work of fiction. This must be kept in mind in evaluating the book, but the book is also a sustained theological argument, and this simply cannot be denied. Any number of notable novels and works of literature have contained aberrant theology, and even heresy … When it comes to The Shack, the really troubling fact is that so many readers are drawn to the theological message of the book, and fail to see how it conflicts with the Bible at so many crucial points.

Thankfully, for both Christian and heathen readers, Mohler’s solution stays sensible:

The answer is not to ban the The Shack or yank it out of the hands of readers. We need not fear bookswe must be ready to answer them.

UPDATE: While Texas prisoners may not have much to read, they might attempt some writing, as this colleague demonstrates:

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