October 29, 2007

their world

From the professor in my math methods class, in response to a question about how to teach kids something particular on a graphing calculator: "I would just let them explore. They absolutely know more than we do about technology. It is their world. When we look at the calculator, we have so much more trouble understanding it."

This to a group of people who had spent the previous half hour playing Block Dude on the calculator and reminscing about how Drug War was the best TI-89 game.

October 25, 2007

and then...

I got to school at 7:41, but I hadn't made my copies so I had to run down the hall, make the copies, run back to the office and sign in, run back to class, get things started.

And then the whole soccer team and all the kids who know someone on the soccer team were yelling at each other, about what I eventually figured out was their loss last night in the semifinals, possibly due to racism by the referee, and the ensuing fight/riot.

And then in second period we were observed by four people: the new assistant principal who's been giving out 'unsatisfactory' ratings, the head of the English department, the school growth teacher, and the principal.

And then kids complained about having a discussion and dragged ass moving their seats, which is what was happening when the assistant principal left.

And then we had a discussion which started out practically dead and ended up with kids jumping out of their seats to talk about Beowulf, Jay-Z, 50 Cent, boasting, and the definition of a hero.

And then the principal said, during morning announcements to the whole school, that our class was what American education should look like, and gave one of our kids $20.

And then I met the parent of my most trouble-making ESOL kid, and the girl who was there while I was talking to him said that what I told the dad would get the son beaten.

And then Joey rolled up his black pants to right below the knee so you could see his black socks pulled all the way up and it looked like he was wearing pantaloons, put on his girlfriend's jean jacket, and started dancing.

And then I gave him and these two other kids a problem they got wrong, which was awesome because those three are way underchallenged in my class.

And then it was lunch, and the copier was busy, and I was almost late to class.

And then this girl - a senior now, someone I know from last year - came huffing along down the hallway to say, "You are one hard person to find. Here's a letter." Which also contained a check for five hundred dollars. FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS. For my class!

And then this kid showed up 10 minutes late to class, complaining about it, and his cousin who got suspended yesterday for saying obscene things to me ("She's like a mosquito, she can't stop sucking" + noises, gestures, etc) was there too, and the cousin wouldn't leave.

And then this girl showed up halfway through class who's NOT IN MY CLASS and inexplicably wants to be in it and she wouldn't leave either.

And then school security had to be called.

And then some girl broke a glass pane out of my door.

And then I couldn't help this girl do math because I had to write pink slips instead, so I told her that this was why I didn't like it when people misbehaved, and she was all, yeah, that's true, that's a problem.

And then I was all teary and pissed off in the women's bathroom during lunch, and this other 2nd-year teacher was nice to me, and before we talked she checked under the stalls to see if anyone was there, which was great.

And then it was the last period of the day and my 5th period kids were back and almost as bad as before.

And then this girl started picking up broken glass and wouldn't put it down and I was worried that she was going to hurt herself.

And then at the end of the period the girl I talked to about how people misbehaving screws up her education asked if I was ok and I said no and she asked if it was the class (yes) and her personally (no) and then she started cleaning up the classroom, and it was the best thing ever.

And then I gave the kids who did their work candy.

And then it was Outward Bound club meeting, and that was really fun.

And then this kid from Sierra Leone talked in Krio and Liberian English and Nigerian English for a while, and can I get him a stand-up comedy gig? He really is that funny.

And then they all wrote paragraphs about why they want to go on another Outward Bound trip.

And then they talked about getting t-shirts made with pictures from the Outward Bound trip and having the principal have an Outward Bound day so they could wear them to school.

And then I ran around getting suspension slips delivered.

And then I missed my workout.

And then I came home and put on my coziest clothes and wrote this.

And then I was completely exhausted.

October 23, 2007

moral hazard

There's this idea, beloved of conservatives, called moral hazard. It's the idea that if you don't bear the full pain of a problem, you're more likely to take risks with it: not locking your car if you're insured against theft, not worrying about getting pregnant if someone else is going to pay to raise the child (or for an abortion). The concept crops up in many, many conservative social policies. One of the most notable is the opposition to birth control, abortion, and sex ed - there's a strain in the anti arguments that people (specifically women) need to experience the immediate negative consequences of sex so they won't have it.

Moral hazard is also the key to understanding most conservative health care schemes. Paul O'Neill, former secretary of the treasury, wrote an op-ed arguing for a health care system that insured everyone against catastrophic health expenses, but required people to pay out of pocket or for private insurance until then. In his words: "since most Americans would have a significant personal cost until the catastrophic coverage took over, they would, at least in theory, shop for the best product." Otherwise, he argues, we lack incentive to care for our health or choose a good insurance plan, which drives up over-all health care costs.

Problem is, moral hazard isn't an especially useful theory for either of these situations. People have sex regardless of the consequences, because the incentives to have sex are so powerful: making people bear the most negative consequences just results in more people in bad situations. Health care is even worse from a moral hazard perspective. People mostly don't avoid seeking care for emergencies because of the cost - as Bush so insightfully pointed out, you can just go to the emergency room if it's bad enough. Instead, our health care system already accounts moral hazard, and it's a disaster: preventive care is expensive, so people avoid it or treat it as optional, so their conditions get worse, so their care becomes more expensive. O'Neill has it absolutely and totally backwards. Making basic care expensive and insuring against catastrophe just leads to people skimping on basic care, and getting to catastrophe: it's more of what we have now, which has given the US the world's most expensive health care mess. Instead, we need universal access to preventive and maintenance care - the kind of thing that prevents kids from dying of their dental problems, because they won't have dental problems.

I think I find this interesting mostly because it's such a great example of a flawed theory of human nature leading to flawed policy ideas. O'Neill has this idea about how people act (so do the abstinence-only sex ed people), but it's not accurate - and not only that, he's not willing to modify his theory based on the evidence (and neither are the abstinence-only people). Instead, he continues to argue that "at least in theory" people will act a certain way.

I see this as a major failure in the relationship between political theory and reality, as much as a sign of O'Neill's personal intransigence. There are tons of political theories out there that just don't work, because their theories of human nature are all wrong; yet no one's gone back and figured out how to communicate between political theory and how people actually act. Similarly, this policy idea of basing health care on moral hazard isn't just ineffective, it's based on an wrong-headed idea of what it's like to be human; until we have some clear talk about what it's like to be human going on with policy-makers, we're going to keep getting bad policy.

October 20, 2007


J.K. Rowling just announced that Dumbledore is gay.

Awesome, but why not put it in the book?

October 19, 2007

funniest moment this week

There's this one kid, call him Joey, though of course that's not his name, who drives me crazy. Absolutely batty. He does not come on time or sit in an assigned seat or follow directions or behave predictably or stop swearing or stop throwing paper or not sing irritating and obscene Akon songs. He does learn math - like crazy, as fast as I can teach him, more or less - and dance and ask why all the time and smile this wolfy secret grin when he gets caught doing something. I love him.

The other day, while I was dismissing the class one at a time, Joey walked over to a girl three seats over, took the bright red, pointy-toed 3-inch spike heels off her feet, and put them on his own. Then, dressed in black Dickies, a black school logo polo shirt, and red stilettos, he sashayed down the hallway to lunch.