"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." – Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, November 10, 2018

A Note to My Leaf-Burning Neighbors

This post was first published on November 2, 2017. Some links have been edited/corrected.

AUTUMN

Ah...who doesn't love the nostalgic scent of burning leaves in the fall?


Answer: Anyone with lungs!

It's Autumn in Indiana and my woodsy neighborhood is filled with fallen leaves. Many of my neighbors are recycling them by mulching them into their lawns or gardens or hiring crews to pick them up. Some others, are piling them up and setting them ablaze, and by doing so filling the air with poisonous toxins and choking ash.

IT'S JUST ONE LITTLE FIRE

What damage can one little fire cause?

It's not just one little fire...it's several since we live in an addition with dozens of houses and hundreds of leaf-dropping trees. The point is that "multiple fires in one geographic area can cause concentrations of air pollutants that exceed federal air quality standards" – at least until the current EPA decides that the right of citizens to breathe is just not a priority.

And, about those lungs...
Besides being an irritant, leaf smoke contains many hazardous chemicals, including carbon monoxide and benzo (a) pyrene. Carbon monoxide binds with hemoglobin in the bloodstream and thus reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood and lungs. So carbon monoxide can be very dangerous for young children with immature lungs, smokers, the elderly, and people with chronic heart or lung diseases. Benzo (a) pyrene is known to cause cancer in animals and is believed to be a major factor in lung cancer caused by cigarette smoke and coal tar as well as leaf smoke.
[Full disclosure: The above paragraph is about me. Burning leaves make me sick. I have some serious lung issues and, while I hate to use the term elderly when talking about myself, I'm getting there...assuming I last through the leaf-burning season!]

KEEP YOUR YOUNG CHILDREN INSIDE

That benzo (a) pyrene stuff is a big deal. It can negatively affect your nervous system, immune system, reproductive system, it messes with your DNA, and it's a carcinogen. Why would anyone do that to themselves and their families...not to mention the little children who live next door or two houses down...or the old folks on the corner...or everyone else in the neighborhood?

My neighborhood (Google Earth).
Note the dark green...trees.

INSTEAD OF BURNING

So, you live in the woods...what do you do with all the leaves?

Some cities (such as Fort Wayne) provide curbside pickup of leaves. Pay attention and make sure you get them to the curb in time for pickup.

Or, instead of setting them on fire, follow the recommendations of Rosie Lerner of the Purdue Extension Service.
You could compost those leaves yourself. Dry leaves alone will break down slowly over time, but you can speed that process by mixing the leaves with green plant materials, such as grass clippings, garden discards and produce scraps. Or you could add a source of nitrogen, such as livestock manure or commercial fertilizer. Mix (turn) the pile occasionally to keep a good supply of air in the compost. A good-sized compost pile should be a minimum of 3 cubic feet. The compost will be ready to use as a soil conditioner in several weeks to several months, depending on size and management techniques.

Shredded leaves also can be used as a mulch around garden and landscape plants. Mulches provide many benefits, including weed suppression, moisture conservation and moderation of soil temperature. Leaves can be applied to dormant plants in winter to prevent young plants from heaving out of the ground. Leaf mulch can help keep soil cooler in summer. No more than a 2- to 3-inch layer of leaves should be used around actively growing plants. Chopping or shredding the leaves first will help prevent them from matting down and preventing air from reaching roots.

Directly applying the leaves to a garden or unused area of soil is another option. Try to spread the leaves over as large an area as possible, then till or plow them under. Chopping or shredding the leaves first will help them to break down faster.

My personal favorite option is to simply shred the leaves through my lawn mower until the pieces are small enough to just leave them right there on the lawn! Dry leaves are much easier to handle through the mower than moist ones. If possible, remove the bagger so all of the leaves are deposited right back onto the lawn as they shred.

Click this image for information on how to use leaves in your garden.

My lungs thank you.

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Friday, November 9, 2018

Still Teaching From the Grave

Carl Sagan: November 9, 1934 - December 20, 1996

Last month I reread Carl Sagan's Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the brink of the Millenium. It is Sagan's last book, published in 1997, the year after he died from the rare bone-marrow disease myelodysplasia.

Billions and Billions is a book of essays covering a wide range of topics, including the fact that he never actually said, "billions and billions" on his Cosmos television series, extraterrestrials, abortion, and exoplanets. He also included essays on some pet concerns of his – climate change, and the diminishment of science literacy in American society.

He dealt with our national ignorance in an earlier book (see the quote in the picture below), but in Billions and Billions, he continued his quest to convince his fellow humans that we must take care of the Earth, our home, lest we join the dinosaurs in extinction.
The Earth is an anomaly. In all the Solar System, it is, so far as we know, the only inhabited planet. We humans are one amongst millions of separate species who live in a world burgeoning, overflowing with life. And yet, most species that ever were are no more. After flourishing for 180 million years, the dinosaurs were extinguished. Every last one. There are none left. No species is guaranteed its tenure on this planet. And we’ve been here for only about a million years, we, the first species that has devised means for its self-destruction. We are rare and precious because we are alive, because we can think as well as we can. We are privileged to influence and perhaps control our future. I believe we have an obligation to fight for life on Earth—not just for ourselves, but for all those, humans and others, who came before us, and to whom we are beholden, and for all those who, if we are wise enough, will come after. There is no cause more urgent, no dedication more fitting than to protect the future of our species.
The mid-term elections held earlier this week have reminded us that in order for us to survive as a species, and allow other species to survive, we must extinguish the anti-intellectualism – "a kind of celebration of ignorance", as Sagan put it – that has once again risen to the surface in our society. The only way we can do that is to educate ourselves, our children, and even more importantly, our leaders, so they can understand the issues facing us.

Sagan wrote presciently about a future that one could argue has come to pass...
I have a foreboding of an America...when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.
We have been bamboozled by scientifically illiterate charlatans whose goal is not the health of the Earth or the human species, but the bottom line of their corporate sponsors.


Even though he's been gone more than two decades, we can still learn a lot from Dr. Sagan.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

ISTA: "We'll be Careful"

My last two posts dealt with ISTA and their collaborations with Stand for Children.
I'm happy to report that I have heard from ISTA's leadership. They are well-aware of the dangers of working with Stand for Children and have assured me that they are entering in the discussions with "eyes wide open." They promise to be very careful.

There was no response to my suggestion that the appearance of collaboration with "reformers" might be bad.

In any case...we'll just have to see what happens next.


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Thursday, October 25, 2018

ISTA and Stand for Children. For or Against?

WAITING FOR AN ANSWER

In my last post I wrote that ISTA was "joining" with Stand for Children (SFC) to work for more state funding for education. At least that's what I think they meant when they said,
ISTA is reaching out to a broad number of groups to help achieve increased school funding and teacher compensation – Stand is just one of these organizations.
I don't know any more details than that.

ISTA's President told a colleague that we should talk to her directly instead of posting on social media. I admit...the first thing I did when I heard that ISTA was "reaching out" to SFC was to tweet a "say it isn't so" tweet. Since then, however, I have emailed the leadership twice – once on October 21, and again on October 23.

[I understand that they are busy. I'm retired. The leadership of ISTA is not. I have noticed that they have been having a variety of meetings lately. So, I'm not complaining that I haven't heard from them. I appreciate the work they do for the teachers of Indiana. That's why I was a member every year that I taught, and have remained a member even into retirement. So...I'll wait.]


TALKING WITH THE ENEMY

I agree that it can be beneficial to talk to those with whom we disagree. It’s my hunch, however, that "reaching out" is more than talking. If it is not, then I hope that ISTA publicly announces that it is not. If it is more than just talking, then I object.

If I had heard that ISTA was talking to SFC in order to convince them to support public schools rather than continue their “reformy” ways I would have been skeptical of their chances of success but it would not have been a problem. The fact that the plan is to “reach out to SFC” in a drive for more funds seems like something different.

I'm all in for fully funding Indiana's public schools, but I have a feeling that I'm not going to like how SFC wants to use extra education funding in Indiana...more charter schools perhaps?

The money SFC has invested in Indy has gone for school board members, who in turn have joined with the Mind Trust, the Innovation Network, and privatization. This, from Nov. 2016...

How Much Money Has Stand For Children Spent On IPS Board Elections And Indiana Lobbying?
...a WFYI News review of Stand For Children’s Form 990 federal tax returns gives some insight into how much and where campaign and lobbying dollars are spent. Five years of filings show the Portland, Ore.-based nonprofit continues to make Indiana -- one of its 11 state affiliates -- a focal point for school reform efforts.

At least $1 million was spent in Indiana during the past five years. The bulk of that money appears to go toward lobbying state legislators to pass laws, including the controversial bill that led to “innovation network schools” supported by IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee and the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office.


APPEARANCES MATTER

At the very least this looks terrible and ISTA ought to publicly renounce any affiliation with groups that work towards closing public schools to open privately run charters. That's my opinion.

SFC doesn't really work for teachers, either.

For example, here's an blog post about SFC's take on teacher evaluation from a few years ago (2014). Ironically, the post was written by ISTA.

ISTA: Stand for Children's Teacher Evaluation Study Flawed and Misguided
Stand and other education “reform” groups need to quit trying to draw a direct line from a student’s single set of test scores to a teacher’s comprehensive evaluation. It makes no sense. It is overly simplistic. It is not defensible. It is unfair.

Stand for Children and Rep. Behning should focus on TRYING TO HELP HOOSIER CHILDREN instead of trying to HURT TEACHERS. The public has had their fill of this nonsense.

SFC hasn't improved since that post was written. My post from October 22 included information from an Answer Sheet article, written last July, discussing what SFC, in concert with The Mind Trust, has done to Indianapolis public schools. Here's yet another exerpt. As you read it, keep in mind that SFC has spent a substantial amount of money buying seats on the Indianapolis school board.

What’s really going on in Indiana’s public schools
When schools reopen in Indianapolis, Indiana in July, the doors of three legacy high schools will remain shuttered. The Indianapolis Public School (IPS) board voted last fall to close them after six months of raucous meetings where community members accused the board and superintendent of ignoring community concerns. Like many school closures, the recent shuttering of what were once three great high schools would disproportionately impact low-income children of color.

DOES THE RIGHT HAND KNOW WHAT THE LEFT IS DOING?

It seems that ISTA is also against ISTA's plan to "reach out" to SFC. The upcoming election includes new school board members in Indianapolis. ISTA is working hard to defeat SFC-backed candidates. And with good reason...

Indiana teachers union spends big on Indianapolis Public Schools in election
Stand for Children, which supports innovation schools, typically sends mailers and hires campaign workers to support the candidates it endorses. But it is not required to disclose all of its political activity because it is an independent expenditure committee, also known as a 501(c)(4), for the tax code section that covers it. The group did not immediately respond to a request for information on how much it is spending on this race.

Chances are SFC is spending heavily on the school board election in order to keep the majority that has pushed for privatization in Indianapolis. The Chalkbeat article, quoted above, also said,
...one particular bone of contention is the district’s embrace of innovation schools, independent campuses that are run by charter or nonprofit operators but remain under the district’s umbrella. Teachers at those schools are employed by the school operators, so they cannot join the union.

The trio was also endorsed by the IPS Community Coalition, a local group that has received funding from a national teachers union.
[According to Chalkbeat, it seems the main concern here is the teachers union as bogeyman. Keep in mind, however, that Chalkbeat is funded by a variety of billionaires and other privatizers such as the Walton and the Gates Foundations.]


What is indisputable is SFC continued desire to privatize Indianapolis's public school system by electing pro-privatization school board members. ISTA is spending thousands in opposition.

Now that action by ISTA is something I can agree with.

SFC: IN A NUTSHELL

Again, I'm all for fully funding public schools, but I don't believe that joining with SFC will result in what ISTA is hoping for. A few years ago, Diane Ravitch explained SFC's purpose...

Stand for Children Does Not Stand for Public Education
Let’s be clear: Stand for Children and its kind want to put an end not only to teachers’ unions but to the teaching profession. They want teachers to be evaluated by test scores, despite the overwhelming evidence that doing so will promote teaching to standardized tests and narrowing the curriculum, as well as cheating and gaming the system.
ISTA shouldn't reach out to Stand For Children. Ever.

A PERSONAL NOTE

A comment on my post from Oct 22 asked me if I am now ready to rip up my ISTA card.

My answer: No. I didn't join ISTA for trivial reasons...and I won't quit because the leadership has decided to do something I disagree with.

Instead, I'll express my dissatisfaction with this particular action (like I have done with other actions in the past) to local and state level leadership. If I don't agree with their answers I will continue to speak up and try to change their minds.


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