2011 - %3, March

Tattoos and Bribes in the Name of No Child Left Behind

| Wed Mar. 23, 2011 3:00 PM EDT

A few years ago, many Latino students at Mission High school failed to correctly answer this standardized test question: "Do you chop, mince, slice, or grind the ingredients of salsa?" Well, depending on which culture you come from, you might do one or all of the above. "I've seen it made in the blender, minced, and sliced," Principal Eric Guthertz told me this week. Another test question described teacups with saucers. "Culturally, most of our students don't drink tea with saucers," he says.

These are the kinds of reading-related questions high school students are about to ponder on the California Standardized Tests, which are coming up in a few weeks. To be fair: Guthertz notes that these are extreme examples, and that some kind of education accountability measures are needed. But "who is writing these tests and for whom?" Guthertz wonders aloud, as we sit in his office one recent rainy day and talk about how President Obama might revamp the No Child Left Behind Act. According to current measurements, four out of five schools could be labeled as failures, which implies that either the current scales are broken, or kids are. "The way this law is currently written just doesn't measure the intelligence and achievement of our students," Guthertz tells me.

Civil rights groups and community based organizations like the NAACP and the Advancement Project claim that failed measurement policies have actually pushed more students of color and low-income students into prisons than colleges. In a recent report (PDF), these groups argue that some schools are "increasing" their test scores by "punishing" failing students through suspensions, expulsions, and school-based arrests. Over 150 organizations have endorsed the report, urging federal policy makers to fix NCLB. President Obama announced last week that he wants to improve the quality of testing and give more control over the testing to local and state governments.

Given how much policymaker handwringing there is over low standardized test scores, it's shocking to discover how little most high school students actually care about correctly answering questions on the standardized tests. Why? Because good test scores won't help them get into college, they tell me. Test scores won't help them get scholarships either. Students know that college admissions judges will look at their grades, essays, and community engagement. So why should they care about NCLB? Here's how Principal Guthertz and teachers at Mission High are improvising to turn the school funding "sticks" of NCLB into student "carrots."

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Questions for Guy Kawasaki, First Apple Evangelist?

| Tue Mar. 22, 2011 6:20 PM EDT

Guy Kawasaki, one the original marketers of the Macintosh computer in 1984, has been called the Dale Carnegie of Silicon Valley for his books on how to enchant friends and influence people. A tech entrepeneur's tech entrepeneur, his bestselling 10th book, "Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions," came out March 8. I'm interviewing Kawasaki later this week; got a question for Apple's first evangelist? If there's a Mac anywhere in your proximity, you might, so please feel free to add them to the comments below and I'll take a look.

Here are a few I'm tinkering with to get you started:

1) How would you describe the art of (and need for) enchantment to a college student about to enter a challenging job market?

2) Is there an area in American public discourse where people who should be enchanting others currently aren't?

3) Today's new tech companies seem generally better organized and less prone to excess than the dot coms of the late '90s, which is probably great for investors but sort of boring from a party standpoint. Am I right in thinking that start-up culture generally has calmed down and grown up somewhat? 

4) How has Silicon Valley changed most dramatically since you were first at Apple?

5) Given how ubiquitous the glowing Apple logo was at this year's SXSW Interactive, it's clear that the concept of Apple evangelism you created continues to succeed. Do you see any downside to the ubiquity of Apple products in geek circles? Do you ever think, 'hey, maybe that worked a little too well in Silicon Valley?

6) What one piece of advice would you give to a nonprofit or individual trying to change the world for the better?

WATCH: Twitter Turns 5 (Video)

| Mon Mar. 21, 2011 6:14 PM EDT

Like the first telephone call ("Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you"), the world's first tweet lacks a certain gravitas. "Just setting up my twttr" 29-year-old Jack Dorsey wrote five years ago today. Since then, notes the Guardian:

[Twitter] has woven itself into tumultuous events: the news that a plane had crash-landed in the Hudson River (with picture); the election protests in Iran; the rapid dispersal of the news of an 7.8-magnitude earthquake; updates from the ground about the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

Not bad for a kindergartener, don't you think? [Read MoJo's 2009 interview with Twitter co-founder Biz Stone here.] But lest you (still) think Twitter is all Beliebers and #tigerblood, the star-studded cast of Twitter's promo cake-and-candles video shows off the platform's wider range. Per the LA Times:

Entrepreneur Richard Branson, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, decorating maven Martha Stewart, US Speaker of the House John Boehner, Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli and entertainer Snoop Dogg, all explain how they use Twitter. One of the best moments: Snoop Dogg follows Stewart because "she loves to wake and bake with the big Snoop Dogg." And Nespoli offers a breathtaking view of Earth from the International Space Station.

Below, watch this year's Twitter birthday video:

Mike and Peggy Seeger's Final Encore

| Mon Mar. 21, 2011 7:00 AM EDT
Album cover detail

Mike Seeger and Peggy Seeger
Fly Down Little Bird
Appleseed Recordings

Out this week, Fly Down Little Bird is a fun collection of tunes the Seeger siblings grew up on. They were one hell of a musical family. Daddy Charles Seeger was a New Deal folklorist and musicologist. Their mom, Ruth Crawford Seeger (Charlie's second wife), was a composer and pianist who served as transcriber of John and Alan Lomax's field recordings of old-time American music—which meant that these kids had unbelievable firsthand exposure to their nation's cultural currency. Both started playing young and mastered many an instrument. They lived in suburban Maryland, where the likes of Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie might drop in for a visit from time to time. Not to mention their older half-brother, the one and only Pete Seeger, still kicking at 91. Okay, yeah, I'm jealous.

Peggy, a veteran folkie with a voice like honey slightly crystallized, is now 75. Mike, who passed on in 2009, was a multiple-grammy-winning player of the banjo—and, well, you name it—who was best known for the influential New Lost City Ramblers, a band he cofounded in the 1950s. Lucky thing that he and Peggy had already recorded these songs as part of an on-and-off lifetime collaboration starting when the young pair teamed up to play local square dances. (Check out "Red River Jig" for a taste.)

Geographer's Danceable Dreamscape

| Mon Mar. 21, 2011 6:30 AM EDT

"What a cartographer does mapping out a place is what a musician does mapping out an emotion," says Mike Deni, singer of San Francisco-based indie band Geographer. "When someone finds a new territory, they distill it into something transferable, something that people can understand, like a map. But that inevitably changes it, and there are good and bad things to that. That's what the name Geographer is about; that process."

The band—comprised of Deni, who also plays synths and guitar, cellist Nathan Blaz, and drummer Brian Ostreicher—has charted a steady course in the Bay Area music scene by bridging the gap between the often-impersonal space of electronica and the lush realm of emotionally charged melodies. By layering Deni's mesmerizing falsetto over springy synths, pulsing drums, and the pull of an electric cello, Geographer produces hypnotic dance numbers that prove quite addictive. Since being named one of three "Undiscovered Bands You Need to Hear Now!" by Spin in 2008, Geographer has been gaining traction; its last show—during the Noise Pop Music Festival—sold out quickly.

Education Roundup: Pink Slips and Protests

| Mon Mar. 21, 2011 6:00 AM EDT
  • How do top-scoring countries like Korea, Singapore, and Finland treat their teachers compared to the United States? Well, those countries recruit only high-performing college graduates, support them with mentoring and other help in the classroom, and take steps to raise respect for the profession, the New York Times reports. On the other hand, "successful, dedicated teachers in the US work long hours for little pay and, in many cases, insufficient support from their leadership."
  • Speaking of respect, mass teacher layoffs have hit California, resulting in 7,300 pink-slips handed out in Los Angeles County alone. Hoping to overturn the state's "last hired, first hired" layoff approach, L.A. middle school students filed a lawsuit last year (since settled) that shields 45 L.A. schools from teacher terminations. The court agreed that high teacher turnover in schools does damage educational quality. Meanwhile, there's a freshly pink-slipped instructor in San Francisco deciding whether to job-hunt or spend his off-hours prepping students for Symphony Hall, MoJo's Kristina Rizga reports.
  • Also in a hurry to pink-slip teachers is New York, once it decides whether to fire them based on seniority or a soon-to-be-created teacher evaluation system, NY Daily News reports. But what does an ideal teacher evaluation even look like? Education historian Diane Ravitch schooled Mother Jones on good teacher evals, whether Finland really is a poster nation (yes), and why she changed her mind about charters (hint: they're not all the same).
  • Also not all the same are black, male students, who at Price T. Young Middle School in Texas were the only students called to the cafeteria by the principal who then blamed them for the school's low standardized test scores. The principal later apologized, The Root reports—hopefully for depriving the low-performing non-black students of his "pep talk," among other things.

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SXSW: 5 More Great Sites for Progressive Media Types

| Sat Mar. 19, 2011 6:00 AM EDT
SXSW Interactive: Austin Convention Center.

Yesterday I blogged about 5 online bon bons and what makes them so sweet. But wait! There's more in that digital candy dish! Forthwith, five sites and apps joining Storify, Tumblr, Readability, DocumentCloud, and MuckRock as my picks from 2011's SXSW Interactive. (Read my first 5 reviews here.)

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week [7]

| Fri Mar. 18, 2011 8:15 PM EDT

Mother Jones guest blogger Mark Armstrong is the founder of Longreads, a site devoted to uncovering the best long-form nonfiction articles available online. And what better time to curl up with a great read than over the weekend? Below, a hand-picked bouquet of five interesting stories, including word count and approximate reading time. (Readers can also subscribe to The Top 5 Longreads of the Week by clicking here.)

For Prostitutes, Is Murder an Occupational Hazard?

| Fri Mar. 18, 2011 8:00 PM EDT

As MoJo reporter Mac McClelland pointed out earlier this week, murdered prostitutes don't often make the news these days. When they do, their deaths may be dismissed as more occupational hazard than crime. Here, for example, is how St. Francis County sheriff Bobby May explained the fatal shooting of trans prostitute 25-year-old Marcal Camero Tye: "You know, prostitutes, these types of folks—it's a risk. Whenever you're soliciting, things of this nature happen sometimes." Translation: If Tye hadn't been trans and/or a prostitute, the murder would have most likely never happened. But why is it so easy to deny a prostitute's right to safety?

Some sex worker advocates say that if the media did more work to humanize prostitutes, violence against this demographic would occur less frequently. Cyndee Clay, the executive director of Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive, is one. The Washington, D.C.-based counseling and outreach center reaches about 7,000 sex workers a year and has a 24-hour crisis assistance center for sex workers who have been victims of crime and/or who want to transition out of sex work. A few years ago, HIPS submitted its study of police abuse and misconduct cases against trans and female clients to Amnesty International. And recently, it helped prepare a United Nations report vying for sex worker rights in the United States. Clay spoke with me about prostitute safety, decriminalization, and the real reason people get into sex work.

Must-See Video: "I Have Sex"

| Fri Mar. 18, 2011 5:12 PM EDT

Not to blow your minds or anything, but young people have sex. And quite a few of them are pissed about the proposed budget cuts to Planned Parenthood, which has been basically deemed a giant abortion factory instead of a comprehensive sex education advocate and family planning provider. In reality, Planned Parenthood offers many health and gynecological services, STD and STI screenings, cancer screenings, birth control, and counseling, and students don't want those services taken away.

"I Have Sex," is a video produced by students at Wesleyan University. Posted last week, it has rapidly garnered more than 238,000 views on YouTube. The idea has spread to other schools, including Bard College; Oberlin College; Elmira College in Trumansburg, New York; and also to Americans studying abroad in Equador and France. Sex isn't the only thing young people have, of course. They also have mad social-media skills, which is partly why the videos have gone viral. The Wesleyan organizers attracted more than 30,000 people to their "event" on Facebook, and have launched a proper fan page that's gaining followers as well.