2011 - %3, January

State (of Emergency) Education Roundup: Charters and Budget Woes

| Fri Jan. 7, 2011 3:10 PM EST

Click here to see all of MoJo's recent education coverage, or follow The Miss K Files on Twitter or with this RSS Feed.

This week California's new Superintendent of Public Instruction declared a state of emergency in schools; California, which educates one in eight public school children in America, is staring down a $28 billion budgetary hole. Kristina Rizga has the details on what budget woes mean for educators across the land.

Now that the GOP's pro-charter school elements have officially landed in the General Assembly, bills allowing the independently run, publicly funded educational facilities have sprung up all over the place this week. Meanwhile, North Carolina tea partiers aim to eliminate caps on the number of charter schools in the state.

On WednesdayThe New York Times hosted a debate on whether Congress should give tax-breaks to parents who home-school their kids, a plan newly elected conservatives are pushing here and here. For more on the tea party's impending war on schools, read this piece from The Daily Beast's Dana Goldstein. Tax breaks for home-schoolers raise questions about using public funds for religious instruction, since many parents who homeschool do it for religious and moral reasons. Also at stake is money that could go to public schools, which NY Times commenters note everyone should have a role in paying for since everyone has a vested interest in the greater good. MoJo's Stephanie Mencimer detailed what Rick Scott's Florida should expect; in short, privatization. 

How much is a good teacher worth? About $400,000 annually. That's if you consider the future earnings of 20 students in a class, which a recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research did recently. According to the abridged, free version of the report:

Replacing the bottom 5-8 percent of teachers with average teachers could move the US near the top of international math and science rankings with a present value of $100 trillion.

The NBER report drives home the point that everyone in the country (people without children included) has a vested interest in the education of kids in their community. HuffPo weighs in with more info.

On Monday, a trial date was set in the case of black children who were improperly placed in Special Ed. Read The Philadelphia Inquirer for more.

Also this week, Kevin Drum reported that teachers now have the option of teaching a censored version of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn that replaces the "n-word" with "slave,"

And, the Advocate reported that a Phoenix-area teenager notified officials at every school in Arizona that if they don't institute policies prohibiting gay bullying, he'll file a lawsuit. The emailed letter was sent to more than 5,000 school administrators.

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Batman Submits to Sharia, Gotham Freaks Out

| Thu Jan. 6, 2011 2:20 PM EST

Image courtesy of DC ComicsImage courtesy of DC ComicsHelp us, Phoenix Jones! You're our only hope.

One day after conservative icon Grover Norquist was outed as a Jihadi stooge (the beard was a tipoff), AFP reports that the anti-sharia blogosphere is up in arms over the latest, greatest threat to Western Civilization: Bruce Wayne. Wait, what?

Per AFP:

In the December issues of DC Comics Detective Comics Annual and Batman Annual, the caped crusader has set up Batman Incorporated and wants to install a superhero in cities around the world to fight crime.*

The hero he picks in France is called Nightrunner, the alter ego of a 22-year-old from Clichy-sous-Bois, a tough Paris suburb where urban unrest sparked riots in immigrant districts across France in 2005.

Nightrunner, known to his family and tax collector as "Bilal Asselah," is an expert in parkour, which is awesome. He's also a Muslim who hails from Algeria, which seems to be what conservatives are really upset about. Big Hollywood's Warner Todd Huston, for instance, called the comic, "PCism at its worst." He added: "France is a proud nation. Yet DC Comics has made a foreigner the 'French savior.' This will not sit well with many Frenchmen, for sure."

For sure. Frenchmen (and Frenchwomen) would never embrace a Algerian Muslim as a national savior. But there's more:

US comic book creator Bosch Fawstin, who wrote on his blog that "DC Comics has submitted to Islam," is coming up with his own antidote.

"If you're as sick and tired of this IslamiCrap as I am, be on the lookout for my upcoming graphic novel, The Infidel, which features Pigman, an ex-Muslim superhero who is the jihadist's worst nightmare," he blogged.

Pigmen aside, I'd just add that Nightrunner's debut is actually the second Muslim superhero controversy in the last year: Last fall, the New York Post slammed President Obama for praising a cartoon featuring 99 Muslim  superheroes who each embody a virtue of Allah**. Looks like Captain Planet is finally off the hook.

Six Self-Control Tips From Experts

| Thu Jan. 6, 2011 9:59 AM EST

Over the past four months, I gained a little weight. About 20 pounds to be exact. My beautiful runner's abs have slowly softened into a jelly belly, my butt has become a pants-busting behemoth. In short, it's time to hit the gym. But like every journalist, I'm an expert procrastinator. What better way to stave off actually doing something about my new love handles than to conduct "research"? Over the holidays, I read Daniel Akst's new hardcover, We Have Met the Enemy: Self-Control in an Age of Excess, which relies on scientific studies to help explain why it's so hard to resist fatty foods and tobacco and other indulgences, even when we know the consequences. To help us all in our New Year's resolutions, I've summarized below a few self-control tips from Akst, some from his book and others from this interview I did with him. Now excuse me while I go hop on a treadmill. Or at least think about it.

1) Be humble. Know that your willpower is limited, evolutionarily disadvantaged, and will fade under stress. Acknowledge that you don't have total control of yourself, as willpower is strongly correlated with genetics.

2) Pre-commit. Knowing your weaknesses, take steps to "pre-commit" to your goals, meaning you change your environment to include or exclude desired presences. Don't want to eat cookies? Don't buy them at the grocery store. Want to work out? Take a new route to the office that forces you go past the gym, or pack a work-out bag and put it in your car. 

3) Document. If you mark on the calendar that you've resisted the donut shop's siren call for X number of days, give yourself a reward. But don't overdo it. Instead, strive to make your next number of days even longer. 

4) Enlist others to help you. Knowing we traditionally used others to help ensure harmony (e.g. having people witness your wedding so you're less likely to break its vows), do the same with your resolutions. Make a bet with a friend for a significant amount of money or a donation to a cause you hate. E.g. if your weight goes above 200, you must donate $500 to the NRA or give your friend $1000. The higher the price you set on failure, the likelier you are to succeed. 

5) When faced with temptation, you can deal with it with resistance techniques such as thinking of something else, reading a book, keeping the desired object out of your sightline, or listing unattractive attributes of the object of desire rather than focusing on attractive ones.

6) Go outdoors. Studies have shown that spending time in nature strengthens self-resolve, even among the weak-willed. Time spent among green, living things will not only up your willpower, it's an easy way to work in some endorphin-boosting exercise or meditation. 

I Was a Wayne Barrett Intern

| Tue Jan. 4, 2011 7:30 PM EST

I almost never got the chance to meet Wayne Barrett, who announced today that he's been let go from the Village Voice after more than three decades at the weekly as one of New York's best political journalists.

As it turned out, I had the pleasure to be among his final interns when, last summer, he taught me the fine art of hounding politicians without mercy after digging deep through the archives, ensuring we neglected no one with anything to hide.

Boots Riley Is Sorry to Bother You

| Mon Jan. 3, 2011 7:47 AM EST

It's been a few years since we last checked in with Raymond "Boots" Riley, front man of the Coup—a funk and hip-hop group known for its humor, intelligence, and in-your-face agitprop. Steeped in radical street politics, the Oakland, California-based group has been shaking things up for two decades with albums like Kill My Landlord, Genocide & Juice, Steal This Album, and Party Music—which gained notoriety for songs like "5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO," but revealed a softer Riley in cuts like "Wear Clean Drawers," a heartfelt facts-of-street-life for his baby daughter. The band's 2006 Epitaph album, Pick a Bigger Weapon, which made Rolling Stone's Top 50 albums of that year, includes the track "BabyLet'sHaveABabyBeforeBushDoSomethin'Crazy." Nowadays, besides raising three kids and working on new Coup material for an indie film, Riley is collaborating with Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello in a newer group called the Street Sweeper Social Club. For a Mixed Media special in our November/December issue, I asked him about his recent projects, favorite tunes, and the joys of fatherhood.

Mother Jones: You're working on your first new album since 2006, right? Give us a taste for where it's headed, thematically.

Boots Riley: Actually, I put out an album in 2009 and an EP in August 2010 with Street Sweeper Social Club. The next album by The Coup will be the soundtrack to a movie that I've written, and in which I play the lead. It's a dark comedy with magical realism inspired by my days as a telemarketer. It's called Sorry To Bother You.