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Jerry Stevens

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As a naturalized citizen of Belize, I found a  posting on Facebook concerning the rate of murders in Belize particularly disturbing for a number of reasons. The people who suffer from this kind of misdirected journalism are hard-working folks who own resorts but also all of the thousands of people who work in the tourism industry. There is little or no disputing the facts, which are easily verifiable facts. In addition. the journalistic  tendency for exaggeration and sensationalizing these facts is something we have learned to live with. What disturbs me is the misdirecting of responsibility for some but not all of the criminal acts. The fact that all of the crimes are done by criminals also makes it a difficult topic to discuss.  By that I mean, Belize does not have some unfair or exotic criminal code that labels accidents as crimes. In this era of political correctness in dealing with date rape, enticement, and myriad other forms of temptations, it is import to point that out. There is no question what the reporter is talking about are criminal acts. 

Many factors contribute to the problem of crime in Belize. Belize is not a rich country. We see tourist arrive with money they have saved for a very long time for vacation and spend it all in two weeks like it had no values. Belizeans see this and think they are all Americans very rich. As is true with all people, if you have two it will not hurt you to share one. I see this reflected in many ways for example the fees native people  charged tourists for services. In addition, I have had grade school teachers tell students it is not stealing if you take something from an American but  it is a crime to take from a fellow Belizean.
Another factor is that a  great many Belizean youths immigrate to the United States as late teenagers and young adults.  This is such a pronounced phenomenon that the population distribution curve in Belize is a bicameral curve with the young at one peak and the older people in the other. The young people migrate to the large cities, for example Los Angles, Chicago, and New York. Keep in mind the Belize population is a predominately black and Hispanic; therefore, the young people once in the United States, they end up in those areas of the large cities, which happens to be where gang activity is at its worst. In addition to being overwhelmed by the vastness of activities and number and varieties of gangs involved they become involved in gang related behavior. Consequently, they are arrested, tired, and deported back to Belize, where they bring what they learned from street  gangs back to Belize. In other words, the United States acts as a huge sieve but also a school room for our young people; it keeps the good ones, and there are many good ones, but ships back the bad ones. The numbers involved are not huge but because Belize is a small country this has an disproportionate impact on Belizean culture. 

In addition, I would like to make the point that many tourist come to Belize looking for the kind of excitement they cannot experience in the United States. They seek and find drug ridden bars and corners of society that  would never visit in the US. White college age girls, who have never been out of their suburban neighborhoods,  arrive with a friend and seeking exotic sexual experience with black men wearing dreadlocks in the allies of Belize. I stopped a young white girl jumping line at the airports. Through her sobbing she said she hated Belize and had to leave. She and a young friend was beaten up and raped at  gun point in a hotel Belize city. She named the hotel, it was a house of prostitution in one of the worst areas in the city. Her friend was in the hospital, who she was abandoning, but she just had to get out of this hatful country.
The people featured in the  post, thus ties them and their guest to the criminal activity to the alleys in Belize City. Thus, the author of this post makes the  hardworking resort owners on a beautiful River the victim of crime. Their resort is as far away from crime and skullduggery is you can possibly get anywhere in the world. However, this post has made them the victims of “all the  crime in Belize”. The post did the same thing as the young line jumper in the airport made me, my country, and my friends who owns the beautiful resort on the Macal River, the victim of her lust for exotic adventure. 
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Parents and teachers interested in education have created a monster. We can label that monster, ‘Charter Schools’. Of course, they did what they did to make things better, but have made things worse. Educational administrators, with the help of politicians, created charter schools to improve our nation’s public school system. Unfortunately, the result is often just the opposite of what charter school founders intended. What should be understandable is that they are publicly funded, which means taxpayers pay the bills for two systems of education at the same time. Does anyone really think that dividing a single resource like that will result in both systems getting better? Understandable, the proponents of charter schools have cleverly created the “charter school” label for their schools to differentiate them from public schools. In addition, in the process of convincing politicians and parents into starting the program and in their efforts to obtain money to fund charter schools, they use greatly inflated hyperbole. Unfortunately, the supporters aim much of their rhetoric at degrading “public schools” to justify their ideas. This has created a situation in which the democratic principle of equal education for everyone is suffering. Of course, everyone including myself will support ideas for better educations. A significant segment of society is an exception to that generality, which is the taxpayer who does not have children and does not want to pay to educate other peoples’ children. This segment includes those who do not want to pay taxes, which isolates this segment of society to one political party; thus, introduces politics to the charter school issue. Part of this pro charter school rhetoric includes the following: . . . school leaders should be given freedom to do whatever it takes to help students achieve and should share what works with the broader public school system so that all students benefit. Clearly, the implication is that public school teachers and administrators do not do have this freedom. The statement makes me wonder in what universe these folks live in. The answer is the universe of denigrated public schools is the one they created. Shifting tax money to charter schools understandably will result in a decrease in public school budget. By making public schools worse, they promote charter schools. This has created a vicious downward spiral of destruction to public school system, poor teacher salaries, unqualified teachers, narrower curriculum, leaky roofs, children who have to do the janitor work—everything. It should not surprise anyone there are big profits for privately owned companies who operate charter schools. The operators cleverly hide this from the public. It is a way for them, with the help of many well-meaning people, to put their hands into the pockets of the taxpayers under the guise of education and they are not shy about doing it. URL: Comments Invited and not moderated

The following can be looked as as a note on what is happening to all of our hard work as teacher who think we are doing a good job. I certainly hope my friend Pauline H. reads it. 

The fact that political ignorance is sweeping our country should not come as a surprise but it does. I can identify several factors that contributed to this dumbing down of America. In addition, I can easily trace it to its source using the adage made famous by Bernstein and Woodward, “follow the money”.

A few rich people joined the church to use the media to turn America into the equivalent of a huge grades school level classroom. This is turning out to be a lethal combination for our Democracy “of the people and by the people”. They have corrupted the minds of the people. Huge media empires and equal huge mega churches with hundreds of thousands of members have coalesced into a massive machine with one message. That message is, “hate the government”. We all hear the message but fail to ask ourselves one simple question, “Who will guide society if we the people don’t?” Of course, the answer is obvious, “They will”. The Koch brothers and your ministers and priests will tell you what is right and what is wrong. We should reject this out of hand by you right as individual human beings to guide your culture and society.

Look at how the structure of a “church” formulated. Each church is a culture or society in and of its self. I lived in a primitive villager and watched as the Pentecostal church corrupt their Mayan culture over a period of 20 years. This was the second corruption, the first being the Catholic Church hundreds of years earlier. The simplistic nature of the corrupt made it easy to follow. To go to heaven you must be a good church member. To be a good church member you must please the minister. To please the minister, the man in the family must donate 10% of your earning as meager as they were and the women must obey the men. Moral guidance boiled down to believing only members of “their” church could go to heaven; of course, everyone else was condemned to hell. Moral punishment was to ostracize those who did not go to that church, which is extremely effective in a small village of 1,000 people when the chairman of the village was the minister.   

You might say they are primitive Mayans; therefore, they know nothing. 
This is not so. I just heard a young man in the United States tell me that he really didn’t like George Bush but his Priest told him to vote for him. The same young man said in Colorado, where he had recently visited, that everyone has guns so nobody steals anything. He had his friends didn’t know what the expression, “shrinking middle class” means. I didn’t bother to ask them why productivity was increasing per workers and wages were falling. They gave me a dumb look when I asked them when they decided to be straight and not gay. They all knew the constitution is a Christian document like the Bible and tells them they can own guns. It says nothing about paying taxes or public schools. One young man told me that if they cannot have guns then the police should not have guns. 

We have all heard these ridiculous and inaccurate things. I have made a mistake by treating them as education failures but the truth is they are the result of the success of the church and the Koch Brothers education. If you don’t believe this, let me ask you when is the last time you heard a politician stand up and say he did not believe in God or guns or before the last few years one that thought gays should have equal protection under the law? Better yet, why do you think setting educations standards is a diabolical political act?  

Scott Walker’s conservatism is unique because of its boldness. Every pronouncement he makes is a clear statement of what has been driving the right-wing political machine for many years. For example, he tells people of his state his objective is to make educations better and to do so he severely cuts billions from the state education budgets. His objective is to take education out of the hand of government and put it into the hands of private individuals. Only to the greediest conservatives does this seem correct. The bottom line is what Walker will never say; the conservative dream is that if you cannot pay for it, you shouldn’t have it. Is it so hard to see that this is in conflict with the American dream, which is that all children should have an equal opportunity?    

Still, it seems we and the news media just stand back and shrug our shoulders as if we are not able to understand the consequences of having the Walker’s conservative dreams fulfilled. From time to time, some radical liberal will say the conservative objective is to destroy the representative government that is the government “of the people and by the people.” We rest easy thinking the government is so powerful that that can never happen. There are those hovering in the background who will make it happen. The conservatives say what they say and the moneyed interests, such as the Koch brothers or the Sheldon Adelson, make it happen. It is no coincidence that Koch brothers fund Scott Walker with essentially unlimited funds. They know it is an investment and if successful, they will get their money back. It is the same as a venture capitalist; if they buy a company or the government, they control the assets, and can make that company (congress) do what they want it to do.   

Thus, the foundation for the further corruption of “we the people government” has been established. I make this statement about the obvious corruption of some congressional representatives who the industry has bought. Scott Walker is only one of some State Governors industry has bought. The relationship with Scott Walker is as clear as it is because he is more radical than the people who are paying him to be radical. The analogy of a snowball rolling down hill seems appropriate.

What we see happening now is the fruits of their past labors. A corrupted Supreme Court corrupted by conservatives made the Citizens United Decision, which in turn corrupts of the political system. The point of this blog post is to say that sometimes the conservative objective is difficult to interpret what the real objective is. They tell us their objective is to get rid of government sometimes with the catchy phrase such as make it so small “we can drown it in the bathtub.”  By defunding educations, he relies on the drive of parents who know their children need to be educated to send them to private schools. If they cannot afford to do that, there is no alternative. Can anyone but a greedy conservative such as Scott Walker is, believe this is right? How can it be that he is bold enough to stand in front of the people in his state and tell them this? Republican governors across the nation are doing this very thing. What does this say about society? There is no such thing as a conservative teacher; it is an oxymoron.  


June 12, I posted a screed about changes in medical education on this blog. The thrust of that article was the increasing burden modern science has placed on veterinarians and physicians.  Scientific discovery has dumped new information on these professions at such an ever-increasing rate they could no longer cope with the burden. Medical colleges are responding—slowly to be sure—in a surprising way.  They are teaching less and less basic science and shifting to teaching more and more clinical application of this new knowledge, which is a shift from the didactic approach of the 20th century to an apprenticeship approach of the 18th and 19th century. I view this as a huge shift in the entire field of medical education. A shift of veterinarian and physician professional, who clients expected to know it all, to nurses who were they are expected to do it all. Myriad specialists with Ph.D. degrees are stepping in to fill the void. 

What should be obvious is that the same thing that happened in medical educations is happening at all level of education. However, in general education, we do not have this option; regardless of what grades they teach, increasing the body of knowledge is burdening teachers with it all. More and more knowledge is burdening teachers without the option of increasing class time. We seem to have, but one option; technology but it obviously is going to take more. I have no idea of what the answer might be. 

The founders of this discussion group set their sights on a solution, which is technology in education. Older teachers like me, are reluctant to give up our tired and true methods even though we see what we are doing crumbling around us. The evidence is overwhelming as we see it in the form of more homework than schoolwork, greater demand from industry for trained workers in an expanding number of fields, and obvious failure of our students to succeed in class work shown by dropout rates and graduation rates. There can be no clearer example of our failure than trying to learn how to operate a computer program by reading a technical description written by a product of our school system. English teachers are wrong when they refuse to believe a computer can teach students grammar and spelling, math teacher refuse to allow students to use calculators, and social studies teacher tell students not to watch TV. I am a citizen of a country where the people speak five different languages principally Spanish and English; however, the official language is English. After TV, broadcast first appeared the quality of spoken English in the villages markedly improved. The main programs people watched were soap operas (women) and baseball games (men).   

As teachers, we have to rethink what we are doing and how we are doing it. Of course, we have to take into consideration our true world situation; we may be in a country where computers not available or are available to very few in society. Nonetheless, having a computer loaded with Microsoft Word and Grammarley programs is better that having an English teacher at your side every time you write anything—I do intend to say anything written on the computer. It is always there. Ask yourself, how much material do you write by hand? Should you be spending inordinate amounts of time teaching penmanship?  

Recently, an English teacher sent me an 800-word essay she felt was the work of a budding novelist, who happened to be one of her advanced students. I loaded the text into the Grammarley program and that program informed me there were 22 errors in grammar; in other words, there was one error per each 10% of the program. I am not an English teacher.

The Washington Post carries some bad news from time to time, but they yesterday published they worst story I have read in a long time. They titled the story as, The ultimate in school choice or school as a commodity. The legislature in Nevada passed a law saying that in the coming year, “any parent in Nevada can pull a child from the state’s public schools and take tax dollars with them”, the ultimate in voucher programs Republicans from around the country are advancing this program. The chief executive of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice has been working for this for years, and it finally happened. Of course, the name ‘Friedman’ in his title refers to the free marketer Milton Friedman, who happens to be the economic equivalent of political philosopher Ayn Rand; if you are rich great, if you are poor screw you—you just do not count.

People who are interested in education know laws like this have nothing to do with education but have everything to do with tax dollars. Show me a Republican who is willing to pay to educate someone else’s children and I will show you a pig that flies; however, that is exactly the principle on which our ancestor built America. Every child in our country is given an equal opportunity to do well. That dream died in the Nevada legislature. Freidman presented the idea in 1955, and it died, as it should have.  He presented the idea as the “ultimate expression of free choice for families”. 

Everyone but greed-driven Republican, joined by some economically depressed Democrats, recognized this law for what it is. Republicans designed the legislation to cut the costs of public school, which in turn means tax cuts. They argue the tax dollars go with the student as a voucher, so the tax is still collected. The truth is children of rich families move leaving the poor children in poorly funded deteriorating school. Also, from the social point of view, the private schools use the money for such nonsense as teaching religion, which Republicans designed to ally churches with their party, which gets us to the debate about Common Core. Church-affiliated school demand the constitutional guaranteed freedom to teach what they want but even the best teachers object to meeting “government” standards of excellence even when they know intelligent high school graduates that do not know how to read, write and do arithmetic but can cite a flawless summary of the principles of Christian religion, which means they can pass grades if they know religion, but academics do not count. Church schools object, to the government telling them what to do. They demand their constitutional guaranteed right of free speech.

Of course, a tax cut mantra is always popular as a vote getter because it is one or more steps removed from the consequence. The consequence, in this case, is a poorly educated class of children. In the Republican mindset, this is OK as long as it is not “my children”, just as Ayn Rand feels it is ok to starve if you are of low IQ, crippled or otherwise handicapped as long as it is not her. The only way someone would vote for this type of legislation is if driven by greed. 

Another teacher writes a hear t felt letter and resigns which I generally find regrettable. The usual theme is a dedicated teacher after working hard to accomplish their teaching goals but feel frustrated by the system or by not receiving support from school board, parents, or the community. I ran across an article on a web cite concerning a Texas A & M professors resignation. This letter was different. It was no more than a diatribe against student behavior ending with the note he was failing the entire class. The Blog cite was His letter was as follows:

“Since teaching this course, I have caught and seen cheating, been told to ‘chill out,’ ‘get out of my space,’ ‘go back and teach,’ [been] called a ‘fucking moron’ to my face, [had] one student cheat by signing in for another, one student not showing up but claiming they did, listened to many hurtful and untrue rumors about myself and others, been caught between fights between students…. None of you, in my opinion, given the behavior in this class, deserve to pass, or graduate to become an Aggie, as you do not in any way embody the honor that the university holds graduates should have within their personal character. It is thus for these reasons why I am officially walking away from this course. I am frankly and completely disgusted. You all lack the honor and maturity to live up to the standards that Texas A&M holds, and the competence and/or desire to do the quality work necessary to pass the course just on a grade level…. I will no longer be teaching the course, and all are being awarded a failing grade.”

The blog author, P Z. Myers, a biologist and associate professor at the University of Minnesota, is an astute individual, which is why I follow his blogs. He wrote a thoughtful response, which was beautiful but did not go far enough. That professor did not belong in a classroom. He has wasted their tuition and may even have destroyed their dreams; that is not what t a good teacher does. When a dedicated teacher resigns, I find it lamentable but when a bad teacher resigns, I applauded. I would add the additional point; the educational administrator at Texas A & M should have known what was happening in that classroom long before it got to the level it did. The resigning teacher listed himself as a professor, which means he should have had many years of experience. Regrettably, incompetent professors are getting to be the norm in our Universities across the nation. The reason is the industrialization of high education, which means hiring good researchers and not teachers. 

The internet supplies us with a definition of literacy, which is the ability to read and write. I wonder how many “normal” people appreciate what that definition entails. I feel I grew up guided by a series of schoolteachers who I felt did not know how to teach then moved on to high schools where administrators designated specific teachers as English teachers. Things did not get better for me but got worse. It took me a lifetime to learn that educators always use ‘English’ as an all-inclusive adjective. I excelled in science classes of all kinds; mathematics was a bit of a problem, but I always felt such class were learnable and did take every course available but did not excel in any of them. I clearly remember one of my trigonometry teachers telling me if I did not do the homework I would fail, which I did. It was the only “F” I received in school, except for English classes which were all failures. I labeled English teachers as the worst teachers I have ever had; my proof was that not one of them was able to teach me to write.

As a junior, the homeroom teacher asked each of us to select for the senior year one of the three choices from a list, Spanish, Journalism, and English. I chose Spanish. Some supreme authority put me in “English”. I enquired, and an advisor informed me my English was not good enough for either Journalism or Spanish; fair enough. I reported, as instructed, to Ms. Tupper’s class. This five-foot tall, gray haired 90-pound dynamo enthusiastically announced the curriculum; we were to read, write about, and act out scenes from Shakespeare plays. She instructed us to read the first act of Macbeth and write what we thought was Shakespeare’s message. 

My heart sank. Literarily, I became violently angry with myself in frustration. I could not eat or sleep that night. In the middle of the night, I took a piece of paper and wrote away my rage without mentioning Macbeth once. I turned that paper into Ms. Tupper. She conducted the class that day talking about three witches. The next class, I sensed she was interested in singling me out from the other students. She called out names and then handed back papers. She did not call my name, but just handed me my paper without one red mark on it except for a few words scribbled on the bottom of the page in red, “Such work for a senior”, “D”. That “D” was the best mark I had ever received in English up until that time. 

I wrote I was incapable of writing a decent sentence or paragraph let alone an entire theme and added something trite about the greatest writer the world had ever known. I misspelled almost every other word. Predicates routinely preceded subjects. I split infinitives and dangle participles. It was perhaps the worst example of writing ever, even for me. I never wrote another paper for that class nor did she assign me parts to act out scenes; I did not exist. I read every play several times even if I was the only one to know that. At the end of the year, I received a “D” in that class, but “A” or “B” in all others, which meant I graduated; the year was 1950. Ms. Tupper and I never talked, but I think she understood and graciously gave me a “D”, an ”F” would mean I would not graduate; there was something wrong with me. She didn’t know what nor did I. 

I read something like the Literacy Survey (adapted from In the Middle by Nancie Atwell) and marvel at how such question as; how did you learn to write? What do you think a good writer needs to do in order to write well? That is what English teachers teach but ignore what I struggle with every day. How do you know how to order letters into a word, do you sense parts of speech, how do you know how to order words and thoughts in a sentence or paragraph. I seemed incapable of learning grammar, spelling, and syntax but not one “English” teacher recognized I had a problem. Collectively, they seemed unable to grasp the idea that I could tell stories, explain, and understand things but could not write them. I knew “English” but not spelling and written grammar. It all seem innate to normal people but not to me. I taught these things to myself with the most patient of all "English" teachers, ironically, a Japanese computer, Microsoft Word, Spellcheck, Grammerly. Never once did a computer ask me why I could misspell the same word, sometimes a simple word, three or four different ways using the same letters in one short paper.  Nor did the computer ask why there were so many typos of words like ‘that’ and ‘with’. The mindless machine just marked them as misspelled or as split infinitives, etc. It never failed me. I am dyslexic but have learned how to hide it.    
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