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March 06, 2013

The Country That Stopped Reading

The Country That Stopped Reading - NYTimes.com
Nowadays more children attend school than ever before, but they learn much less. They learn almost nothing. The proportion of the Mexican population that is literate is going up, but in absolute numbers, there are more illiterate people in Mexico now than there were 12 years ago. Even if baseline literacy, the ability to read a street sign or news bulletin, is rising, the practice of reading an actual book is not. Once a reasonably well-educated country, Mexico took the penultimate spot, out of 108 countries, in a Unesco assessment of reading habits a few years ago. One cannot help but ask the Mexican educational system, “How is it possible that I hand over a child for six hours every day, five days a week, and you give me back someone who is basically illiterate?” . . . A few years back, I spoke with the education secretary of my home state, Nuevo León, about reading in schools. He looked at me, not understanding what I wanted. “In school, children are taught to read,” he said. “Yes,” I replied, “but they don’t read.” I explained the difference between knowing how to read and actually reading, between deciphering street signs and accessing the literary canon. He wondered what the point of the students’ reading “Don Quixote” was. He said we needed to teach them to read the newspaper. When my daughter was 15, her literature teacher banished all fiction from her classroom. “We’re going to read history and biology textbooks,” she said, “because that way you’ll read and learn at the same time.” In our schools, children are being taught what is easy to teach rather than what they need to learn. It is for this reason that in Mexico — and many other countries — the humanities have been pushed aside. We have turned schools into factories that churn out employees. With no intellectual challenges, students can advance from one level to the next as long as they attend class and surrender to their teachers. In this light it is natural that in secondary school we are training chauffeurs, waiters and dishwashers.

Grand Rapids cuts teachers' pay to poverty levels

Grand Rapids teachers say paycheck cuts qualify them for food stamps | MLive.com
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Tina Ratliff never expected her teaching career would qualify her for public assistance. The second-grade teacher at Grand Rapids Public Schools’ Burton Elementary was among nearly 150 teachers summoned by their union’s crisis team to pressure school officials Monday, March 4 to settle a pending contract and do something about applying a state law limiting what school districts and other public employers pay for employee health insurance premiums. Since Feb. 15 when the district began deducting back health insurance premiums over what it’s allowed to pay under the state’s Publicly Funded Health Insurance Contribution Act of 2011, Ratliff said morale among teachers has suffered dramatically and a sort of depression has set in. Some are losing $300 per pay check. “I am a five-year teacher who brings home $555.39 for two weeks and who currently qualifies for a Bridge Card,” Ratliff told the school board Monday to loud applause from her colleagues. “How is this possible?" Some two dozen teachers told similar stories during nearly an hour of often emotional testimonials. Some told of renting rooms in order to keep their homes while others said they simply can no longer pay their bills. “You can see it in people’s eyes and in the way they hold themselves,” Ratliff said after Monday’s meeting. “We don’t know what to do.

March 04, 2013

The 12 Dumbest Things in the Star Wars extended universe

The 12 Worst Things in the Star Wars Expanded Universe
3) Skippy the Droid First of all, his name is fucking Skippy the Droid. Second of all, supposedly Skippy is the name of the red R5-D4 droid from the beginning of A New Hope — the one that breaks down after Luke's Uncle Owen buys it, forcing them to take R2-D2 instead. In Star Wars Tales #1, it's revealed that R5-D4 is a droid that can use the Force, which he uses to keep drinks from spilling while he serves in Jabba's palace. Then he uses the Force to free himself and wander the Tatooine desert until Jawas pick him up, because apparently you can't walk 20 feet without being spotted by a sandcrawler on Tatooine. When Luke and Owen buy him, as per the movie, R5-D4 has a vision that unless Luke takes R2, the Rebellion will fail, Princess Leia will be killed, and basically the whole galaxy will be fucked. So he blows his own gasket and uses the Force to make C-3PO tell Luke to take R2 instead. Which is tremendously dumb, but still not as dumb as the fact he's named Skippy.