kitchen table math, the sequel: 2012

Monday, December 31, 2012

Google Master on the middle class & his niece

Catherine wrote: Then, when your child turns 17, you discover that virtually everyone you know with a child who is 18 is paying sticker price.

Google Master writes:
There might be a reason for that. You live in Irvington, where the median household income of about $105,000 puts you firmly in the upper quintile of all households. "Everyone you know" probably also lives in Irvington, or at least Westchester County, whose median income is somewhere between $80K and $100K, depending on the source you use. At a stretch, "everyone" is somewhere on the upper East Coast, which a map of household incomes shows has the highest incomes in the country.

... All of which is a long-winded way to say that you probably don't know the people who are receiving aid, but they're out there.

This reminds me of a discussion I was having with a fellow software engineer who probably grosses about $120K, and his wife, an SAP consultant, easily $200K. He was shocked when I told him his family was not middle class, but rather in the upper 2-5%.

When you live and work among five-percenters, sometimes you lose sight of the average family out there struggling to put a couple kids in college, feed the family, and pay the mortgage on $48K.

My brother does not have a four-year degree and has worked blue-collar jobs since he was 14. He lost his wife when their daughter, my niece, was in high school. That niece got a full ride her freshman year and tons of aid the remaining three years. She graduated a couple of years ago with honors in two departments.
Very good to hear! (And I love the story about the software engineer....I remember, years ago, reading that all Americans universally consider themselves to be "middle class." I hope it's true, because it's one of the things I cherish about this country.)

re: more people in Irvington paying full fare ---- I wonder --- ?

On the one hand, GM is right: many people here (by no means all) are better able to afford the sticker price.

On the other hand, many people here are also better able to afford high-end tutors, including SAT & ACT tutors.

Another factor: grade deflation in "star schools," which by my arithmetic a few years ago is occurring in my public high school (or was then).

C's impression, which I think is probably accurate, is that his peers who attended our public high school are far more likely to be paying sticker price than his peers at the Jesuit high school.

Why is that?

The Jesuit high school is not cheap, and parents there are not poor. I was shocked one back to school night when I realized just how expensive many of the family cars were. Parents at the school don't "act rich" and don't "dress rich" (at least as I define these things, which may be naive or just wrong, I realize) -- so I was brought up short when I realized that we had not actually moved our child to a "middle class" school.

Nevertheless, a large number of those students, it appears, are now attending college and receiving a discount to do so.

I'm going to ask C. how many of those students are receiving merit aid from Catholic colleges.

One more thing: I'm thinking that SUNY may have kept prices down better than a lot of other states, which might explain why SUNY isn't offering a lot of merit aid (although as I think of it, I believe I spoke to a parent whose daughter was given significant merit aid to attend Binghamton a few years ago... )

No one in my circles has been given merit aid to attend a SUNY school, and C was not offered merit aid to attend Binghamton, either.

I had the impression that one of the SUNYs was recruiting him pretty actively -- was it Geneseo? -- but no mention was made of merit aid.

Not a large sample size, I realize!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

no, parents are not stupid, Post number I've-lost-count

Here we go.
Who still believes college sticker prices matter?

Some 58 percent of students from lower-income families and 62 percent of those from middle-income backgrounds are likely to eliminate schools from contention based simply on price. In comparison, 48 percent of affluent households crossed colleges off their list because of price.

Despite the stubborn belief that price-tags matter, two-thirds of students who attend private and public colleges in this country receive some type of tuition break.

Despite the stubborn belief that price-tags matter, two-thirds of students who attend private and public colleges in this country receive some type of tuition break. At private institutions, 85 percent of students receive an institutional scholarship or grant.
I just read this passage out loud to Ed, who said: "If 2/3 of all college students are receiving some type of tuition break, that means parents are aware tuition breaks are available. I doubt they're just getting tuition aid dropped on them randomly."

Speaking as a parent, I have a stubborn belief that price-tags matter.

The reason I have a stubborn belief that price-tags matter is that .... price-tags matter.

Here's how it works (short form).

  1. While your child is ages 12-16, you read articles and attend guidance presentations in which you are told that nobody pays sticker price.
  2. Then, when your child turns 17, you discover that virtually everyone you know with a child who is 18 is paying sticker price. 

How it works (long form).

  1. While your child is ages 12-16, you read articles and attend guidance presentations in which you are told that nobody pays sticker price.
  2. If you're paying attention -- and, if CBS Money Watch is to be believed, a lot of parents are paying attention -- at some point along the line you realize that: a) 33% of all college students - the number paying sticker price - is a big, not small, number of kids and your kid could be among them; b) most discounts are nominal at best (e.g. the $2000 merit scholarship to Vermont --  out-of-state cost $45K -- awarded to a friend of C's); and c) significant merit aid is contingent upon your child attending a school at least one tier below the best schools that accept him. 
  3. Then, when your child turns 17, you discover that virtually everyone you know with a child who is 18 is paying sticker price. 

today's brain teaser

What is the difference between a trained economist and a guidance counselor?

ANSWER: An economist needs a Ph.D. to tell you nobody pays the sticker price.

update: Cost of College says 1/3 of all college students are paying sticker price. I feel as if I know about half of them.

tired of toolkit

When did everyone start saying TOOLKIT?

Do we know?

And, more importantly, when can we expect everyone to stop saying TOOLKIT?

(inspiration for this post, in case you're wondering: Why Persuasion is a Science Not an Art)

more college graduates = higher employment for non-college graduates

...a 10% increase in the number of people with a four-year degree in a given metro area was associated with a two-percentage-point rise in the overall employment rate from 1980 to 2000.

The benefit was particularly large for women with a high-school diploma or less. "The results are consistent," the author writes, "with the hypothesis that individuals accumulate greater skills from working in labor markets" alongside highly educated and trained workers.

Week in Ideas: Daniel Akst
December 28, 2012, 8:38 p.m. ET
"Human Capital Externalities and Employment Differences Across Metropolitan Areas of the USA," John V. Winters, Journal of Economic Geography (Dec. 10)

Saturday, December 29, 2012

oh, the humanity!

Having taught English composition to college freshman for the past two years in the context of a traditional English course, I conclude that: the humanities are kaput.

Not an original observation, I know, but until now I hadn't seen the phenomenon up close.

The humanities are not kaput at the college where I teach, by the way. The college where I teach is a holdout for traditional English (and grammar!): an outpost. But the very fact that traditional English is holding on at my college may actually be evidence for the kaputness of the humanities elsewhere.

(Which reminds me....a while back I downloaded a series of lectures on American literature by a professor at Yale. I should find those and listen to one just to see.)

This week I have been stumbling upon near-daily evidence that the humanities as we once knew them are no more.

Yesterday, for instance, I came across a film professor at Appalachian State University, I think it was, explaining that the purpose of education is to expose 18-year olds to "diversity," thus eliminating "hate."


College eliminates hate via affirmative action enrollment.

(What is the purpose of college for the diverse people whose presence on campus is so educational for their white counterparts? Not addressed.)

Then today I listened to a 10-minute Stanford podcast, an interview with a Stanford English professor, on the Book of Genesis. I was excited to discover the podcast, which I'd forgotten I had, because I teach 3 chapters from the Book of Genesis in my composition class. Also, I'm reading the Bible (trying to), and I'm interested in the Bible.

But the interview was a great disappointment. Mostly, the professor spent his time talking about why anyone should want to read the Book of Genesis in the first place.

To be fair, the interviewer had pretty much asked, going in, "Why on Earth are we reading the Book of Genesis?" She asked nicely, but the fact that she asked at all: more evidence the humanities are dead. Dead or not doing their job.

Of course, given the fact that the humanities are not doing their job, "Why are we reading the Book of Genesis?" is a legitimate question. Maybe even the question. I myself would have liked to hear a scholarly explanation of why an educated person should read the Bible. For instance, I'm especially curious about how ignorance of the Bible affects my ability to read the many novels that draw on the Bible.

But the professor didn't get into that. He did make the interesting observation that everyone has an opinion about the Book of Genesis whether they think they do or not (not his words), but he didn't develop that idea, either.

Instead, he transitioned to a lengthy reflection on the fact that so many people take the Bible seriously in a non-English-professor sort of way -- "and that's OK," he said.

But not completely OK, apparently. The reason to read the Book of Genesis, he finally concluded, is to show students that it is possible to talk about contested material in a civil and dispassionate manner, and that is the goal of a college education.

Civil discourse is the goal of a $60K/year Stanford education.

That's going to come as news to parents, most of whom likely think -- if they think of it at all -- that civil discourse is the prerequisite for a college education, not the goal. Minding your manners in class: something a Stanford student should know how to do going in.

Then tonight I came across the following, also on the Stanford website:
What do you think of when you think of the word "grammar"? ... "Usually, our minds go to those unending rules and exceptions, those repetitive drills and worksheets..." (720). This formal grammar is "the deadly kind of grammar," the one that makes us anxious....
So film professors at Appalachian State are curing hate, English professors at Stanford are curing religious conflict, and composition theorists are attending to anxiety about grammar while bludgeoning the rules, drills, and worksheets that would prevent anxiety about grammar developing in the first place.

English as a discipline seems to be gone.

Friday, December 28, 2012

how were teenagers were invented?

the answer: technology!

"Hold On to Your Kids" and "authoritative parenting"

re: Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté

I'm only a few pages into Hold On to Your Kids but already I feel my entire parental life rushing before my eyes: from Neufeld's perspective, everything looks different.

Ed and I are "authoritative parents," so much so that we ended up pulling C. out of public school and sending him to an "authoritative" high school (a Jesuit school).

"Authoritative parenting" is warm/strict (in Doug Lemov's terms). Actually, it's warm/strict combined with 'autonomy,' which means autonomy of thought, not behavior. Teenagers being raised by authoritative parents are free to think whatever they please without incurring the wrath of their parents. But the rules stand.

With authoritative parenting, warmth is as important as strictness; without the warmth you have authoritarian parenting, which does not work. But the name American psychologists have given to effective parenting is authoritative parenting, and I have always thought about "authoritative parenting" in terms of parental authority first and foremast. I took the warmth for granted.

Reading Neufeld, I think that's wrong.

I think the essence of authoritative parenting is that the parent-child attachment remains quite strong even through the teen years and even in the midst of a "youth culture."

A few minutes ago, I pulled out my copy of Steinberg's Beyond the Classroom and tracked down this passage, which I remembered from the book. Although it made a big impression on me when I first read it years ago, today I discover that it's almost a throwaway:
Adolescents from permissive homes are in some ways a mirror image of those from authoritarian homes. On measures of misbehavior and lack of compliance with adult authority, permissively raised adolescents often appear to be in some trouble. Their drug and alcohol use is higher than other adolescents, their school performance is lower, and their orientation toward school is weaker. All of this suggest some reluctance, or perhaps difficulty in buying into the values and norms of adults (most of whom would counsel staying out of trouble and doing well in school). At the same time, though, the adolescents from permissive homes report a level of self-assurance, confidence, and social poise comparable to that seen in the teenagers from authoritative households. Especially attuned to their peers, adolescents from permissive homes are both more capable in social situations with their age mates and more susceptible to their friends' influence. All in all, it appears as if parental permissiveness leads teenagers to be relatively more oriented toward their peers, and less oriented toward their parents and other adults, such as teachers.

The differences we observed among adolescents from authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive homes point once again to the power of authoritative parenting---this time, during adolescence--as an approach to child-rearing that protects adolescents from getting into trouble while at the same time promoting their maturity and successful school performance.
This may be the only passage in the book that addresses the subject of peer versus adult orientation. The rest of the book takes it as a given that all teens are effectively 'raised' by other teens (although that is not the way Steinberg puts it): that this is a natural state of affairs.

But it's not. A separate "youth culture" or "generation gap" is a relatively new phenomenon. The word "teenager" didn't even exist until after World War II.

Pacific Child

Have just been introduced to Ira Heilveil, who writes about autism and the behaviorial treatment of autism at Pacific Child. Looks great, especially the post on top, which has to do with getting autistic children and adults to cooperate with doctors.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

from the annals of greatest hits: do not press send

Thinking about schools and peers and parent-child attachments....I came across one of my favorite posts.

"Hold On to Your Kids"

For a number of years, now, I've been thinking that schools per se are a bad idea. Not education, schools.

The way I put it to myself had to do with "age segregation." Every time I thought of middle school or high school, I would think: all those 14-year olds together in one place---eeek!

The age segregation of the middle school struck me as particularly unnatural. K-8 schools seemed a more constructive social grouping, and in fact there is evidence that K-8 schools are more constructive academically, although I'm not going to take the time to look it up just now. (Middle school posts here.)

In any event, age segregation bad is as far as I ever took this line of thought -- until this week, when I ordered Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor MatéDebbie S was raving about it, so I got it.

Neufeld's book is a revelation.

Neufeld puts into words the inchoate thoughts and intuitions I've had re: kids, schools, and parental authority (helicopter parent posts here).

Hold On to Your Kids argues that teens are being raised by teens -- and that our culture sees this historically unprecedented situation as normal and correct.
The chief and most damaging of the competing attachments that undermine parenting authority and parental love is the increasing bonding of our children with their peers. It is the thesis of this book that the disorder affecting the generations of young children and adolescents now heading toward adulthood is rooted in the lost orientation of children toward the nurturing adults in their lives....For the first time in history young people are turning for instruction, modeling, and guidance not to mothers, fathers, teachers, and other responsible adults but to people whom nature never intended to place in a parenting role--their own peers. They are not manageable, teachable, or maturing because they no longer take their cues from adults. Instead, children are being brought up by immature persons who cannot possibly guide them to maturity. They are being brought up by each other.
I imagine Neufeld and Maté are going to say that a school, depending upon its culture, can act to increase -- or to decrease -- "peer orientation," but we'll see.

That is certainly what I've observed.

More later.

Christmas present review

Game of Thrones 1st Season Collector Edition: not a hit, especially after Episode 2. Dog murder is not entertaining.

Downton Abbey: Silly but fun.

buzzers and glass

C. is working at Andrew's vacation program this week. When he got home today he said they've really beefed up security. "Beefed up the security" means they're keeping the exterior glass doors locked all of the time instead of most of the time, so parents have to fish their key cards out of their wallets or purses or glove compartments in order to buzz themselves inside. If parents don't have their key cards or if their key cards have stopped working, they have to try to attract the attention of people inside to come get them. That's easy to do if there's anyone in the hall because the door and the wide panels flanking the door are made of glass.

It will be the same here in the district, too, no doubt. The new superintendent has sent out an email saying the district will be increasing security measures and asking us to be patient with the coming "inconvenience."

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


at Marginal Revolution

Here, too

And: MR likes Givewell for evaluations of charitable organizations.

related: One of my favorite books is William Easterly's The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good.

For me White Man's Burden was a page-turner.

bring back English

A university funded, award-winning undergraduate Honors thesis at NYU:
Shahida Arabi, The Show That Must Go On: Gender Performativity in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Shakespeare’s As you Like It*
The Show That must Go On: Gender Performativity in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Shakespeare’s As You Like It Shahida Arabi, English
Sponsor: Professor Elaine Freedgood, English

Judith Butler’s concept of gender performativity asserts that gender is a performance that is constantly problematizing itself. using this idea as a basis for my research, and combining literary criticism with performance studies and gender studies to guide my analysis, I explore how gender is theatricalized and problematized in Shakespeare’s As You Like It and Austen’s Pride and Prejudice within their respective historical contexts. The body in both texts serves as the site where cultural meanings are inscribed and performed through various stages of gender signification, including cross-dressing, drag, and the rituals of marriage. The body exerts a performative labor that exposes and subverts the very performances being staged. Austen’s Pride and Prejudice emphasizes the role of marriage in successfully “passing” for a woman in eighteenth-century England, while Shakespeare’s As You Like It reveals a world of drag and cross-dressing that both destabilizes and exposes the performativity of gender through the vehicle of Rosalind’s body. Rosalind’s doubling performances construct several layers of gender performance, reflecting the nuanced roles of sixteenth-century English women and the dubious nature of the gendered body on the Shakespearean stage.. These performances, engineered through clothing and language, are partially negated by Rosalind’s references to her biological body, even as they are reinforced by her defamation of the female sex. The financial necessity of marriage in eighteenth-century England compels female characters in Pride and Prejudice to perform their gender through marriage rather than through the stage props of clothing or weapons. Consenting to or refusing a marriage proposal could secure social mobility or undercut social and class expectations. The narrative, however, complicates seemingly subversive performances by reducing characters to the physicality of their bodies, or granting physical agency to “flattened” or one-dimensional characters. These two texts, despite the difference in historical era, problematize this timeless discourse of a stable gender identity.
Inquiry: A Journal of Undergraduate Research

* supported by Dean’s undergraduate research Fund † winner of Phi Beta Kappa Albert Borgman Prize for Best Honors Thesis

Monday, December 24, 2012

Il Est Né le Divin Enfant

I first heard Il Est Né le Divin Enfant just a few years ago, and it instantly became my favorite Christmas carol.

Then I saw this YouTube video and it became my favorite version. I don't know why!

Unfortunately, the video cuts off before the performance is over. I don't remember that being the case last year or the year before....

Il est ne, le divin Enfant,
Jouez, hautbois, resonnez, musettes;
Il est ne, le divin Enfant;
Chantons tous son avenement!

1. Depuis plus de quatre mille ans,
Nous le promettaient les Prophetes;
Depuis plus de quatre mille ans,
Nous attendions cet heureux temps. Chorus

2. Ah! qu'il est beau, qu'il est charmant,
Que ses graces sont parfaites!
Ah! qu'il est beau, qu'il est charmant,
Qu'il est doux le divin Enfant! Chorus

3. Une etable est son logement,
Un peu de paille, sa couchette,
Une etable est son logement,
Pour un Dieu, quel abaissement! Chorus

4. O Jesus! O Roi tout puissant!
Tout petit enfant que vous etes,
O Jesus! O Roi tout puissant!
Regnez sur nous entierement! Chorus

a cookie factoid you may not know

Cookies made from scratch taste best straight out of the freezer.

True of chocolate chip cookies, too, though freezing makes the chips too hard, so you have to let a chocolate chip cookie sit for a minute or two before you eat it. Where chocolate chip cookies are concerned, flavor and hardness of chip are a trade-off.

I bring this up because my sister didn't know.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

dog dog

C's friend E is here & the three of us are watching Scared Straight while I finished grading the papers that straggled in at the end of the semester.

E's brother is dating a young woman who is working on her Ph.D. and teaching undergraduates in the university. She told E. that one of her students recently, in a paper, used the expression "doggy dog."

As in It's a doggy dog world.

Speaking of which, my neighbor sent me an email with the title "Never Again" this morning.

There were dogs inside.

more books - "12 months of reading"

Have only skimmed this list, but it looks great: 12 Months of Reading

Saturday, December 22, 2012

deaf college students and sentences

Another piece of the puzzle.

Deaf students have trouble with relative clauses, too. (Deaf students have trouble with other sentence structures, but relative clauses are one of the most challenging. Will post the list in order later.)

Arthur Whimbey's zoonoses test.

Christmas to New Year's sale on Edisongauss math app!

I asked Allan to write something I could post about his new math app, and here it is:
Greetings Catherine,

Please let your readers know our Blackboard Math Android app will be on sale for 50%-off from Christmas to New Year's. Our goal is to make a big splash on downloads and get the word out to folks that might have a child, grandchild, niece or nephew getting a new tablet this Christmas and wanting to put something more worthwhile on it than the usual fare of games and movies.

So far, it's received a nice reception that's made us feel pretty proud, which is important because at this point it's still more a labor of love than an income replacement--though if we continue to get the positive response we've gotten over the two weeks since it went live, the income replacement might come sooner than later.

I have two stories that I think show it is hitting the mark with people. The first story is from last week when I sent a note to the email list for the parents of my son's 3rd grade class. I said if they were looking for something to keep their children's math skills honed over the long Christmas break to check out the app I'd just finished and was feeling somewhat proud of. The next day, it so happened I was volunteering in my son's classroom for a Christmas cookie baking the kids were doing. (I only get a chance to volunteer once or twice a year, so this was very coincidental.) After the teacher finished formally introducing me and the two other parent-helpers to a class of 26 8 & 9 y.o.'s, a boy that I randomly happened to be standing behind turns around and in a loud stage-whisper says, "I love your program." I joked with my wife that now I know why so many people put up with the lousy pay to be teachers. The other cool story is from one of the other partners at the company. His wife was visiting with a friend with two kids that went from elementary to middle school this year and were having a tough time with the transition on account of their multiplication and division skills. His wife pulled out her phone and walked through the app. The other woman lights up with enthusiasm and says that she has a kindle at home and is going to load it on there that evening for her kids. Without any provocation she adds, "This is exactly what I need."

As a rough introduction to the app, I'll say it doesn't do anything parents couldn't do themselves with pencil and paper. However, because it is on an electronic gizmo, kids seem to engage with it more readily than pencil and paper. Also, for those whose households are anything like ours, its biggest benefit might be that you don't have to run around trying to find a clean piece of paper before anyone can do any math practice. Not having to come up with a bunch of numbers for problems is nice too, as is automatic grading. It has a few more benefits, but this might be getting long so I'll leave the rest for our web page. The web page also has direct links to the app markets to download it.

Blackboard Math 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas & Chanukkah books: late edition

Getting to this way too late----

The Statue of Liberty: A Translatlantic Story by Edward Berenson - near and dear

Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate - Debbie Stier says this is the one, and I believe her. My copy came yesterday. Here are Gordon Neufeld's courses.

Beat This! by Ann Hodgman - it's been updated!

Norton Annotated Christmas Carol - fabulous!

Norton Annotated Brothers Grimm - fabulous!

Norton Annotated Anything - fabulous no doubt!

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman - getting it for Christmas

The Bible and Its Influence - Wonderful, worked extremely well in my class. Here's an excerpt on the Book of Genesis, which pairs beautifully with this excerpt from a Paula Reimer article about the Greek gods.

The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version - this is the edition my pastor told me to get. I'm on page  547.

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman - boring but indispensable

The Procrastination Equation by Piers Steel - yesssssss! Plan to re-read soon. (Here's an old post on projects & procrastination & Piers Steel.)

1491 and 1493 by Charles C. Mann - haven't read either book, but Ed says they're great

A Short History of England by Simon Jenkins - our friend Herb is reading it twice

Bloomberg Best Books of 2012

The Great Recession: Market Failure or Monetary Disorder? by Robert Hetzel - wonderful, and reasonably readable by nonspecialists

Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield - one of the funniest books I've ever read

The Secret Diary of Adrien Mole, Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend - the other funniest book I've ever read

Nobody wants grammar books for Christmas, so that list can wait.


On the other hand, if you're homeschooling or teaching, and really do need a grammar book for Christmas, then Grammar for Teachers by John Seely is a highly compressed, clear, and useful distillation of Quirk and Greenbaum. There's a Workbook, too, and sample pages posted on Seely's website. Any decoder of English grammar who characterizes adverbs as awkward customers is A-OK with me.

Also, I recently finished reading Greenbaum and Nelson's An Introduction to English Grammar and liked it very much; the short chapter on style is excellent. However, if you're as new to formal grammar as I was, and you want a companion book to Seely's, I think Mark Lester's English Grammar and Usage Second Edition might be the choice. I've just discovered it myself, and haven't read it yet, but I've moved it up to the top of my list, bumping Huddleston and Pullum to number 2. Lester is a specialist in ESL, which means the book is keenly aware of the particular confusions and mistakes non-native speakers make.

Thank God for non-native speakers. The rest of us can free-ride on their books and classes.

Lester provides numerous "constituent tests," too. I like constituent tests.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

when things changed (vocabulary edition)

in the Wall Street Journal:
In the late 1970s I taught English grammar and literature in the 7th grade. I used the same literature book that my two daughters had used when they were students in the school only two years before. It included portions of books, single stories and poems written by authors including Carl Sandburg, Isaac Asimov, Mark Twain, Harper Lee, Ernest Hemingway and Anne Frank. The themes were real life—loneliness, poverty, joy, broken homes, shame, pity. The first paragraph from one story included the words infatuated, distraction, periodicals and metaphorically speaking.

The next year the school was integrated with students bused in from downtown Columbus. These literature books were put in storage and replaced with short-story books about animals with human characteristics. Animals were used so that there were no blatant stereotypes of human beings, no hint of direct bias toward a group or idea.

I retrieved the former books, so sorry was I that these students could not also get lost in their incredible prose. But it was to no avail—so many words were unfamiliar to the students that there was no meaning to the sentences. OK, I tried reading the stories to the class. That lasted about a week. A whole class time could easily be used in delving into the background of one word to get the meaning.

And we wonder why students suffer from vocabulary inequality?

Lois Moor
Columbus, Ohio
Remember this?
Back in 1977, having watched SAT scores fall for 15 years, the College Board, which developed and administers the SAT, engaged a panel to try to identify the underlying causes of the decline. A first hypothesis to be checked was whether the test had somehow become more demanding. But, no, to the contrary, indications were that scoring had become more lenient. A second prominent hypothesis was that the decline was due to changes in the demographics of the test takers. Analyses shows this hypothesis to be largely correct, but only for a brief while. Over the early 1960s, changes in the composition of the tested population accounted for as much as three-quarters of the test score decline—and, no wonder, for during this period the number of students taking the SAT tripled. Over the 1970s, however, though the test-taking population stabilized, the scores did not. Instead, the decline continued, even steeper than before, while the extent to which it could be ascribed to demographic shifts shrank to 30 percent at most. Furthermore, the scores that dropped most were those of the strongest students, the students in the top 10 percent of their class; the scores of students toward the bottom of the distribution held steady or even increased.

Advancing Our Students' Language and Literacy: The Challenge of Complex Texts
by Marilyn Jager Adams
American Educator | Winter 2010 - 2011
stop the multiverse, I want to get off

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


I need to come up with something cheerful for Christmas/Chanukkah, so...

Working on it.

Since I have nothing cheerful to say at the moment, I'm going to take advantage of the fact that I am sitting in front of my computer in a state of complete and total derailment.

Making now a good time to complain about Apple.

Here is my complaint.

What is going on with Apple?


My iPad 2, one year old, is broken. Not broken, glitchy. Soon to be brokenThe screen goes yellow at random times, and the music app turns itself on and reads The Odyssey out loud or plays one of the Celtic women singing in Welsh (which is embarrassing when it happens in public -- the Celtic women singing in Welsh, not The Odyssey). Recently, when I tried to transfer the photos I'd taken on my iPad to my iMac, iPhoto didn't recognize iPad and didn't sync. Then after a while iPhoto did recognize iPad and did commence syncing, but a message popped up saying it would take at least 3 hours to transfer all the photos. (Three hours?) I didn't have 3 hours, so I had to press Cancel.

I'm sure more surprises are on the way.

The Genius bar guy says the first step, before they sell me a refurbished iPad 2 for $250 (since my iPad just went out of warranty), is to reinstall the operating system.

But since reinstalling the operating system will wipe out all the "data" on my iPad, I need to back it up first, but, of course, backing up my iPad is a quasi-no go because my iPad is broken or breaking.

Also, and this is another whole level of woe: when I do manage to connect my iPad to my iMac, I can't tell whether my iPad is or is not backed up because I don't know where Apple puts my data.

Where are my photos & screen grabs?

Where do they go if and when they do get backed up?

I remember a time when I didn't have to wonder about these things. If I synced my camera to iPhoto, it was obvious where the photos went. They went directly to iPhoto, one by one; I could see each one as it transferred, plain as day.

Now the transfer process is mystifying. There's "Photo Stream" (what's that?) and Cloud (do I have a special iPhoto address in the Cloud where I can go and find all my stuff?) and "Last 12 Months" (where is Last 13 Months?).

Some of these entities seem to have the same photos in them as the other entities, but then again maybe not.

Also, in addition to Photo Stream, Cloud, and Last 12 Months, my iMac seems to put downloaded, synced photos into a folder called "Camera Uploads," which has no discernible relationship to iPhoto.

And: there are at least two different "Camera Uploads" folders on my iMac, not just one.

Some photos go to one Camera Uploads folder, other photos go to the other Camera Uploads folder. I don't know why. The upshot of having at least 5 different places downloaded photos can go is that I can't figure out any simple way to check whether all the photos I'm trying to download have actually been downloaded and put some place where I can find them.

So I don't know whether it's OK to go ahead and reinstall the operating system and lose all the data on my iPad.


My iPhone 4, also one year old, also just out of warranty, is dead.

It is dead because yesterday my neighbor came over to help me finally install the meditation tape she gave me lo these many months ago (which I obviously, desperately need, unless Katharine's source is right, and I'm taking my life in my hands wading into the meditation thing) and things went awry.

I needed help installing the meditation tape because I have never been able to install any software updates on my iPhone (there've been a gazillion software updates in just one year, it seems). I have never been able to install any software updates because I have too much data on my iPhone.

My neighbor was able to ascertain that the too-much-data I have on my iPhone consists primarily of iTunes songs, which was annoying because I have never, ever, not once, listened to an iTunes song on my iPhone (I use my old Shuffle, or did before all this started). Also I didn't even know the songs were on my iPhone, but there you are.

So we started trying to move songs off the iPhone and onto the iMac to clear up space for the software updates, and when we did that we encountered the same difficulty I always encounter when I attempt the Transfer of the Meditation Tape: Apple tells me one of my devices isn't allowed to hold the tunes (all of which I purchased directly from the iTunes store myself, with my credit card, with my name on it, but never mind) and tells me I have to authorize one or the other of the devices now or Apple won't let me proceed, at which point I always lose my nerve. Which device am I supposed to authorize? Which one has the most songs? I don't know, and I don't know how long it will take me to find out, either.

So I always press Cancel at this point. My neighbor, however, was determined, and she persisted....and, sure enough, we discovered in short order that tunes were getting erased, not synced or transferred.

The first one to go was '8 Mile' by eminem. Fine. I can live without eminem in my life.

But the next recording in line for obliteration was "Beer for My Horses," and that gave me pause. I like "Beer for My Horses." I plan to listen to "Beer for My Horses" one day again, possibly after I've switched to Windows; I don't want to delete "Beer for My Horses" from whatever device it's on now; and I don't want to re-purchase "Beer for My Horses," either, seeing as how I've already paid for it once.

So then my neighbor tried something else and at some point, as we tried not to erase all of my iTunes songs, we learned that my iTunes songs and my iTunes account are connected to a Verizon email address I don't recall ever having, although I did have the foresight to write down the password. Unfortunately, Apple no longer recognizes the password, and neither does Verizon.

(That was today's undertaking: a Service Chat with Gema, I think it was, at Verizon. Two service chats, actually. A few short hours later, Gema and I learned that in fact I do not have an email account for, but I did have one once.)

update 12/20/2012: Apple does not recognize my birth date, either, not even when I put in the month and the day without the year as the Genius bar guy said to try.

Anyway, my neighbor and I ascertained the presence of a Mystery Email Address in my iTunes account, and at that point, for some reason, my iPhone stopped having an operating system and refused to "Restore" the operating system when my neighbor tried to restore it.

That wasn't the end of it, either.

After the operating system Failed to Restore twice in a row, the Apple ghost in the machine said the iMac might be broken (no doubt) and advised us to go find a "Known-Good Computer" and try again.

So my neighbor took my iPhone to her house to plug it into her Known-Good Computer while I called Katharine & got the low-down on my possible future Depression from unmonitored meditation.


This afternoon I called Apple about my phone.

Getting the operating system put back on my phone will run me $150 plus postage.

Also, it took the Apple person at least 10 minutes to figure out where the Apple store in Ridge Hill is.

I finally had to look it up on the web and give her the address.

Then she told me the Ridge Hill store isn't "Authorized" (or something) and I spent another five minutes trying to find out what, exactly, was or was not "Authorized" about Ridge Hill and why it mattered.

The answer turned out to be that when an Apple store is only somewhat authorized, meaning it's an "authorized dealer" or some such but not a real Apple store run by Apple (the Apple store in Grand Central is real, in case you're wondering), then the Apple person on the phone can't make an appointment at the Genius bar for you.

You have to call them yourself.


Trying to salvage some part of my day, I asked the Apple person, while I had her on the line, if she could fix the situation.

She sent me to Apple ID, where I was supposed to find listed as an alternative email I could then delete, but it wasn't there, so I asked whether she could look into it, and at that very moment the Apple ID page crashed. An email came through to the Apple people telling them so.

The Apple person asked if I wanted to try again in a few hours.

I said sure.


My laptop locks up alllllll the time.

"other students were involved"

Here's the other passage from the Secret Service report that blew me away:
In many cases, other students were involved in the attack in some capacity.

Although most attackers carried out their attacks on their own, many attackers were influenced or encouraged by others to engage in the attacks. Nearly half of the attackers were influenced by other individuals in deciding to mount an attack, dared or encouraged by others to attack, or both (44 percent; n=18). For example, one attacker’s original idea had been to bring a gun to school and let other students see him with it. He wanted to look tough so that the students who had been harassing him would leave him alone. When he shared this idea with two friends, however, they convinced him that exhibiting the gun would not be sufficient and that he would have to shoot at people at the school in order to get the other students to leave him alone. It was after this conversation that this student decided to mount his school attack.

In other cases, friends assisted the attacker in his efforts to acquire a weapon or ammunition, discussed tactics for getting a weapon into school undetected, or helped gather information about the whereabouts of a target at a particular time during the school day.

only in suburban and rural schools

I came across this factoid last night:
School rampage shootings are rare events that have occurred in middle-class and affluent rural and suburban schools, but they are not found in inner-city schools.
Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
This finding has nothing to do with the mistaken belief that mass murderers are white, by the way. Mass murderers come from all races, and the people who attacked schools between 1974 and 1999 were 75% white.

I've just barely skimmed the section of Deadly Lessons that discusses the absence of mass shootings in inner-city schools, so I'm not sure how they explain this (if they do). It sounds to me as if they offer a hypothesis that the social organization of students may explain the difference -- and that the social organization is 'naturally' different in rural/suburban schools versus inner-city schools in a way that may not be easy to counter.

It's also the case that people with incomes below $30K a year have the lowest rate of gun ownership: 30% of homes as opposed to 38% for $30-$50K and 43% for $50K-100K.

In the words of the Secret Service report, "Most attackers had access to and had used weapons prior to the attack," I assume it's possible that the explanation is no more complicated than the fact that more affluent people buy more guns. (Any thoughts?)

I'm also wondering whether 'targeted school violence' ever happens in parochial schools.

Do we know?

Monday, December 17, 2012

when everything changed

1985 again: But there also seems to have been a small previous increase in these incidents in the late 1980s that no one much noticed.

From Deadly Lessons:

Figure 9-4 shows that student-perpetrated school rampages (with or without a fatality) are not entirely new phenomena. There were two such incidents in the 1970s and six in the 1980s. And yet it also seems clear that the frequency of student-perpetrated school rampages resulting in multiple victimizations increased dramatically after 1994. The difference is highlighted in the figure by lines showing the mean number of such incidents per year in the 17-year period from 1974 to 1990 and the 11-year period from 1991 to 2001. The mean number of student-perpetrated rampages increased from an average of 0.53 incidents per year to an average of 3.27 incidents per year.

It is important to note that these are very small numbers. It is also important to note that the increase observed in the 1990s could be explained at least in part by a reporting phenomenon. It seems likely that the media would cover fatalities in schools, and particularly fatalities that occurred with multiple victimization, with a high degree of consistency and reliability over the entire period from 1974 to 2001. What we cannot be sure of, however, is whether the media would have covered incidents involving multiple victimizations without a fatality as consistently or reliably over this period. While it seems likely that multiple victimizations in a school setting would be newsworthy throughout this period, we cannot be entirely sure that the media weren’t particularly sensitized to the issue of school rampage shootings in the late 1990s, and therefore began covering these more assiduously (even when they did not involve fatalities) than had previously been true. If the media were sensitized to these events, part of the increase could be accounted for by the increased likelihood of news accounts of such events, not by an increase in the real underlying rate of these events. Still, the difference in the rate of these events is impressive and would easily be rejected as a chance occurrence if the reporting were accurate, even though the numbers are very small.

Our media search also uncovered five student-perpetrated school rampages in other countries (Table 9-2). While these results may be biased by the less certain coverage of international events, it seems noteworthy that only one incident occurred in 1975 and no additional shootings occurred until 1999. The 1999 shooting was followed by three other rampages involving different means of inflicting harm on others (arson, stabbing, and shooting). This suggests that school rampages are not unique to the United States and, since no international school rampages were evident until 1999, rampages in other countries may have been somehow influenced by the U.S. epidemic in the 1990s.

One final point: a December 2001 article in the Boston Globe reported that since the April 1999 Columbine tragedy, 12 U.S. school rampage shootings have been discovered and thwarted before they came to fruition. Ideally, we could put these events on Figure 9-4 as a further indication of the trends in time of these school rampage shootings. There are three problems in doing so, however. First, it is quite likely that, given the public concern about the school rampages, the newspapers would be much more likely to report on thwarted incidents in this period than they would have in earlier periods. Second, given efforts to mobilize students to report these events and law enforcement to take them seriously, it is quite likely that the police would find more such events and that they would treat each event as a serious plot that was really to be carried out rather than mere fantasizing by the kids involved. Third, in any case, Figure 9-4 records events that actually occurred. Presumably, for every act that actually occurred, there were some others in which some preparations were made, but for a variety of reasons, the act never occurred. Consequently, we would have to assume that there were even more attempts to be found than completions. What we are observing in the thwarted events, then, are some incidents that might never have occurred even if the police had not found them in time.

For all these reasons, it is inappropriate to put these thwarted shootings in the same figure as the other data. Still, the fact that these thwarted events were planned during this period is consistent both with the idea that planning for such events increased in the latter half of the 1990s, and that society and the police got a bit better at learning about and thwarting the events. But the data cannot prove this claim.

While the data depicted in Figure 9-4 are weak by scientific standards, they are still important to include in the effort to understand multiple-victim lethal school violence. What they suggest is that school rampage shootings are not a recent phenomenon, nor are they uniquely a U.S. phenomenon. It seems likely that the United States has experienced an epidemic of these incidents in the latter half of the 1990s—that is, an unexpected increase in their number. There may also have been some contagion mechanisms at work—that is, some kind of copycat influence.

If the international and thwarted incidents are included in the basic time trend of observed school rampages, then copycat mechanisms seem likely. But there also seems to have been a small previous increase in these incidents in the late 1980s that no one much noticed. The lack of notice may have prevented the escalation of these shootings through the copycat phenomenon. But this is largely speculation, not a scientific claim. It seems unlikely that this phenomenon is either entirely new or entirely unique to the United States. It may have gotten worse recently and— even more speculatively—that may be in part the result of a kind of contagion. But the problem has endemic and international aspects as well as epidemic and U.S. ones.

thwarted attacks

kcab was right:
[A] December 2001 article in the Boston Globe reported that since the April 1999 Columbine tragedy, 12 U.S. school rampage shootings have been discovered and thwarted before they came to fruition.

Moore, Mark H., Petrie, Carol V., Braga, Anthony A., and McLaughlin, Brenda L., ed. Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence. Washington D.C.: National Academies Press, 2003. (296.)

how much violence in American schools? Secret Service Report

(Bullet-point summary below excerpt)
The Prevalence of Violence in American Schools

Public policy-makers, school administrators, police officials, and parents continue to search for explanations for the targeted violence that occurred at Columbine High School and other schools across the country, and seek assurance that similar incidents will not be repeated at educational institutions in their communities. While the quest for solutions to the problem of targeted school violence is of critical importance, reports from the Department of Education, the Justice Department, and other sources indicate that few children are likely to fall prey to life-threatening violence in school settings.

To put the problem of targeted school-based attacks in context, from 1993 to 1997, the odds that a child in grades 9-12 would be threatened or injured with a weapon in school were 7 to 8 percent, or 1 in 13 or 14; the odds of getting into a physical fight at school were 15 percent, or 1 in 7.7 In contrast, the odds that a child would die in school–by homicide or suicide–are, fortunately, no greater than 1 in 1 million. In 1998, students in grades 9-12 were the victims of 1.6 million thefts and 1.2 million nonfatal violent crimes, while in this same period 60 school-associated violent deaths were reported for this student population.

The findings of the Safe School Initiative’s extensive search for recorded incidents of targeted school-based attacks underscore the rarity of lethal attacks in school settings. The Department of Education reports that nearly 60 million children attend the nation’s 119,000+ schools. The combined efforts of the Secret Service and the Department of Education identified 37 incidents of targeted school-based attacks, committed by 41 individuals over a 25-year period.

Nevertheless, the impact of targeted school-based attacks cannot be measured in statistics alone. While it is clear that other kinds of problems in American schools are far more common than the targeted violence that has taken place in them, the high profile shootings that have occurred in schools over the past decade have resulted in increased fear among students, parents, and educators. School shootings are a rare, but significant, component of the problem of school violence. Each school-based attack has had a tremendous and lasting effect on the school in which it occurred, the surrounding community, and the nation as a whole. In the wake of these attacks, fear of future targeted school violence has become a driving force behind the efforts of school officials, law enforcement professionals, and parents to identify steps that can be taken to prevent incidents of violence in their schools.
Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States - 2004
OK, so boiling it down:
  • Odds of a high school student being threatened or injured with a weapon in school: 7 to 8 percent
  • Odds of a high school student getting into a physical fight at school: 15 percent
  • Odds of high school student being the victim of in-school theft: 2.7 percent
  • Odds of a high school student being the victim of a non-fatal violent crime: 2 percent
Two percent of all children in high school were the victims of violent crime --- ???!!!

That number needs to be zero.

The Safe Schools Initiative - what they looked at

kcab asked whether the Secret Service report on targeted school violence looked at attacks that were prevented as well as attacks that were carried out.

The answer is 'no.' The report looks only at attacks that were actually carried out.

The bad news, I suspect, is that the reason the report didn't look at attacks that were prevented is simply that attacks never are prevented. Not by school authorities, at any rate.

I doubt many planned school shootings have been prevented by parents, either. Parents never know about the plans -- none of the adults in the student's life knows. There are often kids who know, but no adults. And kids don't tell.

Once a student plans a shooting attack on his school, it's up to him whether he goes through with it or not.

At least, that's the way I read the findings.

update: I read the findings wrong.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

from the Secret Service report: bullying and "targeted school shootings"

Key Finding 7

Many attackers felt bullied, persecuted, or injured by others prior to the attack.


Bullying was not a factor in every case, and clearly not every child who is bullied in school will pose a risk for targeted violence in school. Nevertheless, in a number of the incidents of targeted school violence studied, attackers described being bullied in terms that suggested that these experiences approached torment. These attackerstold of behaviors that, if they occurred in the workplace, likely would meet legal definitions of harassment and/or assault.

The Final Report and Findings of the Safe Schools Initiative
I'm thinking that this must have been the section of the report that got all the headlines when it was released 12 years ago. I remember a huge amount of attention paid to bullying in the wake of Columbine.

more data from the Secret Service report

From the 2000 Secret Service report on "targeted school shootings":
The result was the Safe School Initiative, an extensive examination of 37 incidents of targeted school shootings and school attacks that occurred in the United States beginning with the earliest identified incident in 1974 through May 2000. The focus of the Safe School Initiative was on examining the thinking, planning, and other behaviors engaged in by students who carried out school attacks. Particular attention was given to identifying pre-attack behaviors and communications that might be detectable--or "knowable"--and could help in preventing some future attacks.
Thirty seven attacks in 26 years. The investigators looked at all of them.

I read the report cover-to-cover yesterday and recommend it. Strongly recommend. (Among other things, it is a model of clarity up to and including use of bullet points, italicized print, and white space.)

I was surprised by a great deal of what I read -- and I was surprised to be surprised given the amount of reading I do on all things school-related.

One thing I learned: the image of the schizophrenic loner-slash-loser is pretty wide of the mark.
For those incidents for which information on the attackers’ school performance was available, that information indicates that those attackers differed considerably from one another in their academic achievement in school, with grades ranging from excellent to failing (n=34).
  • The attackers in the largest grouping were doing well in school at the time of the attack, generally receiving As and Bs in their courses (41 percent; n=17); some were even taking Advanced Placement courses at the time of the incident or had been on the honor roll repeatedly.
  • Fewer of the attackers were receiving Bs and Cs (15 percent, n=6), or Cs and Ds (22 percent, n=9).
  • Very few of the attackers were known to be failing in school (5 percent, n=2).
Attackers also varied in the types of social relationships they had established, ranging from socially isolated to popular among their peers.
  • The largest group of attackers for whom this information was available appeared to socialize with mainstream students or were considered mainstream students themselves (41 percent, n=17).
  • One-quarter of the attackers (27 percent, n=11) socialized with fellow students who were disliked by most mainstream students or were considered to be part of a "fringe" group.
  • Few attackers had no close friends (12 percent, n=5).
  • One-third of attackers had been characterized by others as "loners," or felt themselves to be loners (34 percent, n=14).
  • However, nearly half of the attackers were involved in some organized social activities in or outside of school (44 percent, n=18). These activities included sports teams, school clubs, extracurricular activities, and mainstream religious groups.
Attackers’ histories of disciplinary problems at school also varied. Some attackers had no observed behavioral problems, while others had multiple behaviors warranting reprimand and/or discipline.
  • Nearly two-thirds of the attackers had never been in trouble or rarely were in trouble at school (63 percent, n=26).
  • One-quarter of the attackers had ever been suspended from school (27 percent, n=11).
  • Only a few attackers had ever been expelled from school (10 percent, n=4).
Most attackers showed no marked change in academic performance (56 percent, n=23), friendship patterns (73 percent, n=30), interest in school (59 percent, n=24), or school disciplinary problems (68 percent, n=28) prior to their attack.

A few attackers even showed some improvements in academic performance (5 percent, n=2) or declines in disciplinary problems at school (7 percent, n=3) prior to the attack. In one case, the dean of students had commended a student a few weeks before he attacked his school for improvements in his grades and a decline in the number of disciplinary problems involving that student in school.
The Final Report and Findings of the Safe Schools Initiative

"I am Adam Lanza's mother"

C. read this article this morning.

It's incredible:
I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.

A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7- and 9-year-old siblings knew the safety plan—they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me.


According to Mother Jones, since 1982, 61 mass murders involving firearms have occurred throughout the country. Of these, 43 of the killers were white males, and only one was a woman. Mother Jones focused on whether the killers obtained their guns legally (most did). But this highly visible sign of mental illness should lead us to consider how many people in the U.S. live in fear, like I do.

When I asked my son's social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime. "If he's back in the system, they'll create a paper trail," he said. "That's the only way you're ever going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless you've got charges."

I don't believe my son belongs in jail. The chaotic environment exacerbates Michael's sensitivity to sensory stimuli and doesn't deal with the underlying pathology. But it seems like the United States is using prison as the solution of choice for mentally ill people. According to Human Rights Watch, the number of mentally ill inmates in U.S. prisons quadrupled from 2000 to 2006, and it continues to rise—in fact, the rate of inmate mental illness is five times greater (56 percent) than in the non-incarcerated population.

With state-run treatment centers and hospitals shuttered, prison is now the last resort for the mentally ill—Rikers Island, the LA County Jail and Cook County Jail in Illinois housed the nation's largest treatment centers in 2011.

No one wants to send a 13-year-old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail. But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken healthcare system, does not provide us with other options. Then another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, "Something must be done."

I agree that something must be done. It's time for a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health.
I am Adam Lanza's Mother by Liza Long
Number one, I personally would put police officers in schools.

Number two, I have no idea whether some form of gun control -- or ammunition control -- would prevent mass killings, or at least reduce the carnage. (I've always been intrigued by Pat Moynihan's scheme to impose a 10,000% tax on ammunition.)

But number three, the mental health system, to the extent that we can be said to have a mental health system, is not working, and I'm grateful to Gawker for publishing this mother's account.

For parents like me, who have children with classic developmental disabilities, there is a pretty well-developed system in place. Obviously, that system has its problems in the form of abusive aides and very low funding, but that's not the issue here. The system exists, and the assumptions that undergird it are rational, at least in my experience.

The situation is radically different for children and adults with mental illnesses -- or, even worse -- dual diagnoses, which is what I'm going to guess we're talking about with Adam Lanza. Individuals with dual diagnoses are a very challenging population.

Speaking of ---- we're just back from the Christmas party at Jimmy's group home. The head of the house is leaving to work with women aged 40 to 60 who have dual diagnoses.

As he put it: These are people who are independent enough to go out in the community on their own, but not make good decisions.

Here is E. Fuller Torrey:
A Predictable Tragedy in Arizona
Bureacratic Insanity

Saturday, December 15, 2012

from the Secret Service report - "signaling the attack"

I'm not sure whether this passage is apropros to the Newtown murders since the killer was an adult. Have just begun to look at it.

I find the first paragraphs astonishing.
Signaling the Attack

Prior to most incidents, other people knew about the attacker’s idea and/or plan to attack.

In most cases, other people knew about the attack before it took place. In over three-quarters of the incidents, at least one person had information that the attacker was thinking about or planning the school attack (81 percent, n=30). In nearly two thirds of the incidents, more than one person had information about the attack before it occurred (59 percent, n=22). In nearly all of these cases, the person who knew was a peer–a friend, schoolmate, or sibling (93 percent, n=28/30). Some peers knew exactly what the attacker planned to do; others knew something "big" or "bad" was going to happen, and in several cases knew the time and date it was to occur. An adult had information about the idea or plan in only two cases.

In one incident, for example, the attacker had planned to shoot students in the lobby of his school prior to the beginning of the school day. He told two friends exactly what he had planned and asked three others to meet him that morning in the mezzanine overlooking the lobby, ostensibly so that these students would be out of harm’s way. On most mornings, usually only a few students would congregate on the mezzanine before the school day began. However, by the time the attacker arrived at school on the morning of the attack, word about what was going to happen had spread to such an extent that 24 students were on the mezzanine waiting for the attack to begin. One student who knew the attack was to occur brought a camera so that he could take pictures of the event.

Most attackers did not threaten their targets directly prior to advancing the attack.

The majority of the attackers in the targeted school violence incidents examined under the Safe School Initiative did not threaten their target(s) directly, i.e., did not tell the target they intended to harm them, whether in direct, indirect, or conditional language prior to the attack. Only one-sixth of the attackers threatened their target(s) directly prior to the attack (17 percent, n=7).

Most attackers engaged in some behavior, prior to the incident, that caused others concern or indicated a need for help.

Almost all of the attackers engaged in some behavior prior to the attack that caused others–school officials, parents, teachers, police, fellow students–to be concerned (93 percent, n=38). In most of the cases, at least one adult was concerned by the attacker’s behavior (88 percent, n=36). In three-quarters of the cases, at least three people–adults and other children–were concerned by the attacker’s behavior (76 percent, n=31). In one case, for example, the attacker made comments to at least 24 friends and classmates about his interest in killing other kids, building bombs, or carrying out an attack at the school. A school counselor was so concerned about this student’s behavior that the counselor asked to contact the attacker’s parents. The attacker’s parents also knew of his interest in guns.

The behaviors that led other individuals to be concerned about the attacker included both behaviors specifically related to the attack, such as efforts to get a gun, as well as other disturbing behaviors not related to the subsequent attack. In one case, the student’s English teacher became concerned about several poems and essays that the student submitted for class assignments because they treated the themes of homicide and suicide as possible solutions to his feelings of despair. In another case, the student worried his friends by talking frequently about plans to put rat poison in the cheese shakers at a popular pizza establishment. A friend of that student became so concerned that the student was going to carry out the rat poison plan, that the friend got out of bed late one night and left his house in search of his mother, who was not home at the time, to ask her what to do.

The Final Report and Findings of the Safe Schools Initiative

from 2000 - "Rampage Killers" - & Secret Service report on school killings

I think this is probably the Secret Service report discussed in the TIME article:

from 2000:
An examination by The New York Times of 100 rampage murders found that most of the killers spiraled down a long slow slide, mentally and emotionally. Most of them left a road map of red flags, spending months plotting their attacks and accumulating weapons, talking openly of their plans for bloodshed. Many showed signs of serious mental health problems.

But in case after case, the Times review found, the warning signs were missed: by a tattered mental health care system; by families unable to face the evidence of serious mental turmoil in their children or siblings; by employers, teachers and principals who failed to take the threats seriously; by the police who, when alerted to the danger by frightened relatives, neighbors or friends, were incapable of intervening before the violence erupted.


In 34 of the 100 cases, however, families or friends of the killers desperately did try to find help for a person they feared was a ticking time bomb, but were rebuffed by the police, school administrators or mental health workers.

Sylvia Seegrist caromed in and out of mental institutions 12 times in 10 years, while her parents searched for a residential program where she could stay in treatment. They knew she was dangerous. She had stabbed a psychologist and tried to strangle her mother, and had hidden a gun in her apartment. But each time, she was released from the hospital when she seemed to improve.

"We were always fearful that maybe some tragedy would happen," said Ruth S. Seegrist, Sylvia's mother. "She threatened it: 'Someday before I kill myself, I'll bring some people down with me.' " Sylvia opened fire in a suburban Philadelphia shopping mall in 1985, killing three people and wounding seven.

The Well-Marked Roads to Homicidal Rage
Sylvia Seegrist's letter
and from TIME last summer:
[T]he Holmes case raises a crucial question: Is there a way to identify and stop mass killers before they unleash themselves?

.... After Columbine, the Secret Service and the FBI undertook months-long projects that were designed to create methods to spot mass killers before they act. The Secret Service study, the more influential one, looked at 41 attackers in 37 school massacres. The data showed that mass shooters don't usually act impulsively and rarely make threats against enemies. But they do tend to have experience with firearms.

In short, mass murderers are a vexing and diverse lot. For instance, the typical mass killer said nothing suspicious to friends or family members but signaled his intent to third parties--especially, in the cases of the kids who shot up their schools, classmates they liked. On July 25, a report emerged, citing a law-enforcement source, that Holmes had taken the time to send a troubling package to a psychiatrist at the University of Colorado at Denver, where Holmes worked. He apparently sent drawings of his intended massacre.

In 2004 the journal Behavioral Sciences & the Law published an authoritative paper by a team of psychologists led by Reid Meloy, a professor at the University of California, San Diego. For the past decade, Meloy has been a consultant for the FBI's counterintelligence division.

In the paper, Meloy and his colleagues offered both sociological traits and behavioral clues that are associated with mass violence. Some of the factors they identified: A criminal history. The No. 1 predictor of violent crime is previous violent behavior. (For his part, Holmes had only a speeding ticket.)

A sense of victimization.

Most adolescents who shoot up their schools say they were bullied. Most adult mass murderers say girlfriends or relatives had recently rejected them or that they had been persecuted at work.

An age in the 20s.

According to the Meloy paper, the average age of mass killers is 27. (Holmes is 24.)

Other factors come up as well--for instance, preoccupation with fantasy is a common feature of mass killers, and Holmes is reported to have played video games ad libitum. But none of these facets can distinguish a burnout from a psychopath....

Preventing Mass Murder
By John Cloud | Monday, Aug. 06, 2012

lockdown - from the Comments - and an experience on my campus

from the Comments:
Crimson Wife said...
When my DH was in the Army, the S.O.P. was to do a lockdown of the unit whenever sensitive materials (usually weapons or night-vision goggles) were unaccounted for. No one was allowed in or out but while there were armed military police guarding the exits, I'm 99% sure that those inside were not physically locked in.

FormerCTMom said...
Lockdown is what may have saved lives in that school. It means that the teachers shove their kids into the safest possible space in the room and LOCK the door. This keeps the killer out of the room. The reason that the toll was so high at VA Tech was because they didn't have a lockdown, and the gunman visited classroom after classroom.


A quote from coverage of the shooting
"Music teacher Maryrose Kristopik was hailed as a hero for barricading 15 children in one closet, where they could hear the bloodthirsty Lanza screaming, “Let me in!”"
This is how a lockdown can save lives

lgm said...
The timing on this incident meant that many students were likely traveling between their classroom and the office bringing down attendance and lunch reports, as well as visiting the library for SSR material. Going in to hard lockdown meant that each child was immediately placed under direct adult supervision and moved to the safest position in the room possible - staff checks the hallway, pulls in any nearby person, and locks the door. Any unlocked windows are locked. The corridors are clear. Anyone that was outdoors will be moved to the designated safe location, which is not necessarily the school bldg. Doors and windows are locked.

A soft lockdown is also used in certain situations. Students with urgent needs can use the bathroom w/supervision if they are not in the affected zone, but everyone else stays in position and the classroom learning proceeds. Outdoor activities are cancelled.Doors and windows are locked.

People can still exit the bldg, by unlocking the windows, just as they would if the fire alarm was pulled in the winter, but the situation will tell if that is in their best interests.

It seems clear to me that our mental health system needs revamping.


To answer your original question -- a hospital lockdown means that perimeter is secured and visitor access is restricted or screened more than usual. The police are involved.

palisadesk said...
We have two types of lockdown, depending on whether the perceived threat is external or internal. They have different names (which escape me at the moment), but we have drills for both and the rationale is calmly explained to students.

When the threat is external -- usually, a police action somewhere in the vicinity -- all entrances to the building are locked, external windows are locked and shades drawn, and first-floor classrooms with windows fronting on the exterior of the building are required to have lights turned off and students moved away from the windows as a precaution. Learning activities can continue, although sometimes what the students are doing is affected by the lights being turned off. I was in one classroom where the teacher switched from guided reading activities to choral music during this lockdown. Doors to the classrooms were not locked, and students could use the rest rooms under supervision -- administrators and support personnel patrolled the halls to ensure students could be hustled to safety should the situation escalate.

When the threat is inside the building (I was in the computer lab during one such incident), teachers are asked to lock their doors if possible - many classroom doors cannot be locked from the inside however, and teachers using resource rooms, conference rooms or offices may not have keys to those rooms - but students or staff were not to leave the rooms for any reason until an all-clear was announced. One of my students wanted to use the restroom but I had to tell her NO. In our case it was a middle school student having a major meltdown in the hall and armed with a baseball bat or hockey stick threatening mayhem. After leading several burly staff on a merry chase he fled the building and was apprehended in the parking lot. Mental health issues were involved.

I did not have keys to the computer lab however, so had an armed intruder been involved I would have had no way of locking the door. In my experience, which is limited in these matters, the lockdowns have all been brief and care taken to keep the staff and students informed in a calm and matter-of-fact way.
We have no lockdown procedures on my campus that I'm aware of. Last week I drove to school and  noticed while parking that multiple police cars were roaring onto campus with sirens blaring. No one had any idea what was going on, and students were walking calmly along to class as they normally do, so I did the same, all the while thinking to myself: I don't have to be here. I could get back in my car and drive home. 

That line of thinking competed with my second line of thinking, which had to do with the size of the campus: quite large from one end to the other. Because all the police cars were headed to the other side, opposite from me (and my car), I found myself thinking: Is whatever is happening going to stay there and not come here?

Which instantly made me feel guilty because if there was something bad happening there, I was now actively hoping that it would continue happening there, not here, where I was.

The whole thing was crazy.

Finally, after I'd arrived at my classroom (which may or may not have locks on the doors, I don't know) and was now too far from my car to return to it quickly, a student outside the room told me there was smoke coming from a building at the other side of the campus, and that's why the police had come.

Friday, December 14, 2012

school security - just a question

I'm reading that the Newtown hospital is on lockdown -- what is lockdown, exactly?

My school district (which I'm assuming is similar to Newtown) began regular lockdown drills years ago, I think because the then-new superintendent was focused on security.

Does a lockdown mean no one can get out? Are people locked in as well as locked out?

How does it work?

in Newtown

I was about to write a post about grammar when the news came in.

Writing about grammar at this moment feels wrong.

The pain these families are in.

Monday, December 10, 2012

changing "what and how teachers deliver particular instruction"

Monday, 12/10 - Workshop for Parents on the Common Core Learning Standards - 7:00-8:00 pm; Alexander Hamilton HS Auditorium, 98 S. Goodwin Avenue, Elmsford, NY. You have heard much about the many changes to the landscape of NY public education. Many of them are rooted in the newly adopted Common Core Learning Standards which will change what and how teachers deliver particular instruction. If you are interested in learning more about this shift in curricula, you may be interested in attending this workshop entitled Introduction to the Common Core Learning Standards for Parents which is sponsored by Southern Westchester BOCES. Click here for more information.
As far as I'm concerned, the Common Core standards have been well and truly hijacked.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

today in College Composition

Avoiding the Difference Fixation: Identity Categories, Markers of Difference, and the Teaching of Writing
Stephanie L. Kerschbaum

Abstract: In order to show difference as a dynamic, relational, and emergent construct, this article introduces “markers of difference,” rhetorical cues that signal the presence of difference between one or more interlocutors, and suggests practical means by which teachers can engage this concept to improve their teaching practice.

College Composition and Communication | Vol. 63, No. 4, June 2012
These are the people running college writing programs.

Next Action:

a) teach your child to write before he/she gets to college (Susan S did it! ... I have some ideas; Katharine does, too)
b) check into the freshman composition program at the schools your child is considering
c) if the required freshman writing courses are run by a program called "Composition Studies," or taught by people with degrees in "Composition Studies," considering choosing another school
d) if that's not possible, move heaven and earth to get your child excused from all required writing course(s)
e) if exemption from a required writing course is not possible, make your child promise to visit the college's Writing Center for help with all assignments in the required course
f) also extract a promise from him/her to request frequent meetings with the instructor of the required course
g) plan on seeing a C on the transcript

south of the border

Ed was reading an article in The Economist this morning when he came across this:
He also announced plans to take on the teachers’ union, a fearsome organisation that long enjoyed a cosy relationship with the PRI. Mexico’s schools are the worst in the OECD, a club of mainly rich countries, largely because the union controls teacher recruitment and training. The president says he wants to professionalise training and to ban hereditary teaching jobs...
With a little help from my friends
The Economist | Dec 8th 2012 | MEXICO CITY
Hereditary teaching jobs.

That's a new one on me.

Something happened

I've been saying for a while now that 'something happened' in 1985. Things changed.

It hadn't occurred to me that Goldin and Katz's timeline in The Race between Education and Technology corresponds directly to mine.

Goldin and Katz find the schools somewhat abruptly ceasing to function as producers of greater equality via educational attainment in the early 1980s.

I find the composition journals abruptly ceasing to function as producers of useful observations re: teaching students how to write, also in the early 1980s.

I don't think that's a coincidence.