Rainbow over Galileo Lane, Tucson

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Hey I got myself up this morning.

This morning I got out of bed, used the faciltiies, took a shower and got dressed.
That may not sound like much, but one week ago I got a new right knee, A nice young tech got the shower started for me. that may not sound like much but you try getting socks on with a swollen painful knee.
I have a device called a sock aid which does the trick.

And I'm sitting here exhausted and in pain, The nurse just asked me to estimate the pain on a ten point scale and I said (ouch) eight. That got me two pain pills

I'm at a local branch of Health South which rehabilitates folks of all kinds,

I'm also entitled to speech therapy here.

The therapist offered to treat my singers nodules and raspy voice.
While some of you might agree that I need some help in this area, I persuaded my Aussie therapist that I was here for my knee.

I think now I'll go back to bed and relish my triumph,'

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Obama, Congress and me.

You and I are not happy with the impasse in government and we are not at all pleased with the Obama administration education program.

But I think we have to consider that the President should get considerable credit for what did or didn't happen to medicare and access to health care in this country.

 On Monday I will be going to the University Medical Center to get a new right knee. I've been extremely well prepared for this. I've been screened by my many specialists: Neurologist, nephrologist, cardiologist, primary care, ophthalmologist, even my podiatrist. I've been informed by a surgical nurse, the anesthesiologist and my orthopedic surgeon..Oh and my physical therapist. ( who makes house calls) I am so ready. I've made my own choices of general vs local anesthesia. And I'm pleased to know that while he is at it I will be getting my bow leg straightened. Did you know they can do that?

I'll be spending at least three days in a private room with a nurse who only has four patients. I'll be able to call any time of night or day for food- they want me to  eat.

I'm among the lucky Americans who has access to the best of American medical technology. I have medicare which will pay for most of this. And I am still part of the University (state) medical plan through United .
Yetta and I pay over $800 per month for this. Hopefully when "Obama care" kicks in this access will be exapnnded to at least a few million others.

Obama didn't get what he wanted in his health plan but he also protected what we have from the attempt to destroy health care and social security mounted by key republicans.

Last night on Bill Maher's show an apologist named Krum said we should welcome the possibility of Romney being the republican nominee and getting elected because any of the others would be far worse.

The reality is that we have to get behind Obama because any alternative the Republicans would offer is pledged to take us back to the era of the robber barons that preceded the reforms of both Roosevelts.

The old red scare has been tried against Obama - they called him a socialist (would that he were) but now he is being accused of trying to turn the country into European social welfare state (would that he was ).

As I see it the only way Obama could lose to any of these is if large numbers of progressives don't vote.
We can't let that happen.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Political incursions into education

During the years of the so-called reading wars I learned that I had lied to my California eighth grade students. The state required that all eighth graders had to pass a test on the state and federal constitution. And one of the things I taught was how a bill becomes a law.  I left out the work of the lobbyists. And I left out the work of the movement conservatives who have developed tactics for using the institutions of democracy to destroy democracy.

No child left behind was a brilliant example of the work of the movement conservatives. They rewrote the elementary -secondary education act which was the major law that brought federal money into the nation's schools with the goals of equalizing educational opportunity. Their rewriting gutted the original act, redirected its resoursces, took control of  curriculum and policies away from the local districts and the states and mandated methods, materials and texts. And it specifically marginalized whole language broadly defined as anything other than synthetic phonics in literacy instruction.

And it disguised its purposes so well as reform that it was supported by both parties and the major minority

Diane Ravitch says that under NCLB, the federal government was dictating ineffectual remedies, which had no track record of success. Neither Congress nor the U.S. Department of Education knows how to fix low performing schools. The intent was not to fix the schools it was to destroy public education and put in its place
a privatized system like that of third world nations where anybody with means sends their kids to private schools , public schools serve only the working poor, aand the non-working poor are forced out of school at an early age. 

They accomplished this by using the federal money as bait to force the changes they sought in state educational policies and local application. In his campaign, Obama took advice from reputable educators such as Linda Darling Hammond but he also listened to the same people who had created NCLB.

In fact his administration discovered that you could force change without actually giving the states money.
Under the bad sports metaphor of "Race to the Top" states were required to change such important policies as teach tenure to appply for a grant and then they only give the grant to a few states.

NCLB- still  the law of the land n education- has a time bomb ticking, By 2014 all children are required to be proficient in reading. If not all schools will be labled failing. In Lake Wobegone they only have to be above average.

Now the two parries each have a plan for modifying NCLB. But in the spirit of this Congress they differ sufficiently that no change will actually pass. Which leaves the schools of america caught in the limbo
of enforcing a law nobody wants with less money. And that means teachers losing jobs and pressure on those who still  teach to be faithful to bad programs out in place by massive conflicts of interest under the past administrtaion.

Maybe what we need is teachers occupying the DOE in Washington like they did in the state capitol in Wisconsin. Or how about occupying both political conventions this year? Wouldn't it be great if we shut down all the schools while the two parties were nominating their candidates?

That would be a  lesson from the teachers.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


I'm working on a book with Steve Strauss whose claim to fame other than being Bess Altwerger's husband, is that he has both a Ph.d in linguistics and an MD in neurology.The other authors are Peter Fries and Eric Paulson.

Steve has brought our reading theory and modern brain theory together to show that our model of reading is consistent with emerging brain theory. I won't go into all of it, but an important aspect of both is the understanding of the importance of prediction.

In reading we have seen that the brain is predicting what it will find as it continues to read.One evidence of that is that  that the eye only fixates on about 70% of the words in any text . The brain, through instructions it send to the thalamus, tells the eye what it predicts it will see and the eye then seeks out evidence to confirm what the brain has predicted and to form new predictions.

A new insight coming from brain research i s that, even in insects, each action, whether mental or physical
contains within it a predication of the next action. That makes it possible to function smoothly and to make continuous response to each situation.

This week we were driving the LA freeways. And I thought about how cars in close proximity traveling at speeds often exceeding 80 miles an hour manage to avoid hitting each other. Each driver is making continual decisions on what to do next as the car hurls forward toward its destination.

The brain can't go through a decision making process each time it needs to what to do next. It must be able to react immediately. It can do so because of what Steve calls feed forward. The brain doesn't feed back to input from the eyes, it feeds forward ready to take the next step.

In reading the brain is making decisions not only from input it is getting from the eye but from information it has stored in the cortex. What we think we see is more important then what we actually see. Perceptions are always the result of what the eye provides as input and what the brain has predicted.

In our book we focus on the illusion that readers have seen all the letters in all the words. Yet as I said they have only fixated about 70% of the words. What they have not seen they have predicted, And on the basis of what is perceived the reader is constructing meaning. Contrary to common focus on careful word identification,  reading is an efficient process of making sense with the least amount of visual input necessary to be effective  in making sense.


Monday, January 2, 2012

The language continuum

I often find as I'm writing  an article or book to explain concepts to my audience that I am clarifying my own thoughts and sometimes making a breakthrough. I liken it to a comedian telling himself  joke he hadn't heard before.  It happens, of course in teaching too.  You understand something yourself in  the course of getting it through to your students.

That's what happened to me recently. I was trying to deal with the common belief among linguists that written language is not itself language but rather an encoding of language. They argue that since written language is not universal and oral language is it cannot be language. The significance of this is that they use it to reject my position that written and oral language are learned in the same way and for the same reasons. They are parallel language processes. Most often these linguists also believe that language innate and not learned. So oral language doesn't have to be learned but written language does.

As I began to write about this I realized that what I believed but had not yet worked through is that both oral and written language are part of  a continuum. Human beings are social and interdependent. Unlike many other animals we take a long time (several years) to become mature adults during which we depend on parents for survival. And the more complex human society gets the more we need to be connected to each other.

Language is the major means of connecting. What is innate is not language but our universal ability to invent language and that depends on our abiity to think symbolically. We can assign meaning to abstractions and manipulate those to represent our need and  experiences to each other.

Furthermore the ability we share to think symbolically is totally recursive. We can use symbols to represent symbols and change the values of the symbols in the same utterances. That's why there are homophones and homographs in all languages. The same sounds and graphic pattern mas have different meanings.

In our view each child invents language but in the context of the social language that surrounds the child. So language is shaped by the interplay between social convention and personal invention and eventually the personal language is consistent with the social language- they join the language community.

For  a young child and a young culture oral language is the most effective means of connection. They need to connect most with family and community. From the beginning though there is some need to store knowledge and experience and so graphic forms are invented- cave painting to tell the story of a great battle or hunt- or symbols and icons to mark significance. Or marks to record quantities or trades.

Eventually oral language is insufficient and fuler forms of written language are needed .They can be preserved and transported so people can connect across time and space.

 Like oral language written language has been invented at many times in many places. That's what is universal-
our ability to invent new forms of language to extend our ways of connecting. That's why deaf people,cutoff from sound based language invent sign based language. And since human communities have neighbors part of the inventive process is taking systems already in use by the neighbors and adapting that to one's own language needs, as the Japanese did with Chinese or the Romans did with the Greek.

This continuum of connection through language requires improved forms for language production as the needs for connection increase. Guttenberg's printing press didn't produce mass literacy  quite the contrary : the need for  the wider spread of literacy produced the need  for and market for printing presses.

So extend this now to cheao pencils.fountain pens, ball point pens, type writers, copy machines,  word processors, etc until we reach the digital age . Now the differences between oral and written language in terms of use and function overlap. We can record sound and images, we can have written conversations on cell phones, we can plan revolutions and get thousands of people in a city plaza on a few minutes notice.

Form follows function in language- Computers developed to crunch numbers and perform fast complex mathematical procedures but they then made word processors possible.

The development of microchips that can store large amounts of data and access it quickly made the telephone a microcomputer that connects us through voice ,written text, and photo and video images in ways that connect us in ways we haven't even thought of yet. And an icon can conjure a game, or book,  or a historical event or turn a phone into a pin ball machine or working slot machine or  bowing alley.

And it all because of our need to get connected.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

So another year

We will all be saying "Happy New Year" many times as we did last night if we were watching "the ball" drop or just did this morning when we awoke. Is that a wistful wish? A hopeful prediction? Or just formulaic language- something we say on certain occasions with no meaning other than a response to the occasion.

Perhaps there is the hope that if we say it often enough it will somehow come true like the Chassidic Jews belief in collective mitzvoh- if enough people say it it will gain power and become real.

Or maybe it has the immediate purpose of expressing the pleasure of being together to greet the new year - "we're happy that we made it to another year." Having just achieved my 84th birthday there is certainly some of that in my greeting. Just having survived to  greet another year is a happy surprise

In my case I said Happy New Yeat at a gathering of family and friends in Los Angeles at my nephew's home at the end of a weekend celebrating his sister's second marriage. LA is a happy place for Yetta and me. We met and married here. Our three daughters were born here. We left here so many years ago thinking we would return in a few years and live out our lives here. But then came Reagan and doors closed and we wound up instead in Arizona after productive happy years in Detroit. Arizona has provided some happy has provided some happy years

Certainly it is not a happy prospect to greet an election year- a whole long election year in which -is it possible- one of the idiots trying to become the next Republican President could actually be elected?
I'm only half joking when I tell my daughter Karen who has forty acres outside of Edmonton Alberta to make room for all of us just in case,

And it doesn't look like it will be a happy year for education. I'm pulling together papers  from  a series of symposia sponsored by the Reading Hall of Fame on the topic "Whose knowledge counts in education policy." It isn't just the US that is sufferieng from the Pedagogy of the Absurd.. All the major European  countries are experiencing the same dumb political imposition of mandating synthetic phonics.
And Dibels aka Egra is being forced on to developing nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Yet I remain optimistic that in the long run sanity will return. After all this year teachers found their voices, unions began to support teachers and Save Our Schools started something that is sure to grow.
So in that spirit HAPPY NEW YEAR.

May we all rejoice at small victories,
May we continue to fight for kids and teachers
and may we survive to say happy new year again next year.