The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Narcissist in chief

President Trump met with the 2017 state Teachers of the Year yesterday, and, as usual, made the event all about himself:

Usually, the National Teacher of the Year speaks. This year, that didn’t happen. Usually, the president spends some time talking with the teachers, giving many of them individual attention. That barely happened Wednesday, according to several participants who agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity because they said they fear Trump addressing them on Twitter or press secretary Sean Spicer bringing them up at a daily briefing. Usually family members join the winners to meet the president. This time few were allowed — and relatives of the teachers, some who had traveled at their own expense for many hours to attend, were left to wait in a building near the White House, with, as one said, “no water in the hot rooms.”

Rather than a ceremony in the East Room or the Rose Garden, as past presidents have done, Trump invited the teachers into the Oval Office, where he asked them all to gather around him, standing, while he sat at his desk. In the crowd were first lady Melania Trump, Vice President Pence, second lady Karen Pence and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. It was the first lady’s birthday, and the teachers sang “Happy Birthday” to her.

In the Oval Office, with the teachers and others standing around him, Trump spoke about the teachers and engaged with a few of them (see video above), and briefly singled out the 2017 National Teacher of the Year, Sydney Chaffee, from Codman Academy Charter Public School in Dorchester, Mass. A ninth-grade teacher, she is the first national winner from a charter school in the program’s 65-year history....

How interesting that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has financial stakes in charter schools, oversaw an event where a charter-school teacher won a major honor from her boss? And Trump still couldn't be gracious about it.

Read the rest of the article for how Presidents Obama and G.W. Bush honored the teachers, and ponder how often Trump will, over the next 1,362 days

Betsy DeVos behaving as predicted

When you have someone with the background, education, and beliefs of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, you know you're not going to get any policies that benefit education. Sure enough, yesterday she started rolling back reforms begun under the Obama administration that tried to correct the abuses of the student loan industry:

The former president's administration issued a pair of memorandums last year requiring that the government's Federal Student Aid office, which services $1.1 trillion in government-owned student loans, do more to help borrowers manage, or even discharge, their debt.

But in a memorandum to the department's student aid office, DeVos formally withdrew the two Obama memos. The Obama administration's approach, DeVos said, was inconsistent and full of shortcomings. She didn't detail how the moves fell short, and her spokesmen, Jim Bradshaw and Matthew Frendewey, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

DeVos' move "will certainly increase the likelihood of default," said David Bergeron, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank with close ties to Democrats, who previously worked under Democratic and Republican administrations during his more than 30 years at the Education Department before retiring as the head of postsecondary education.

It's an absolute scandal that student loans, which are some of the safest investments a bank can make because they can't be discharged in bankruptcy, have high interest rates and a history of predatory collection practices. DeVos has investments in the for-profit education companies that benefit directly from this situation. And people wonder why the Republican Party has a reputation for screwing the disadvantaged in favor of rich businesses.

Long day...

The last two days, I've been in meetings more than 7 hours each. I'm a little fried. Meanwhile, the following have popped up for me to read over the weekend:

I'm now off to the opera. Thence, perhaps, to sleep.

Stuff to read later today

It's fascinating how working from home doesn't seem to give me more time to, you know, work. So these have backed up on me, and I hope to read them...someday:

OK, so, that's going to take a few minutes...

Banning PowerPoint at universities

Amen:

Overreliance on slides has contributed to the absurd belief that expecting and requiring students to read books, attend classes, take notes and do homework is unreasonable.

Courses designed around slides therefore propagate the myth that students can become skilled and knowledgeable without working through dozens of books, hundreds of articles and thousands of problems.

If slide shows are so bad, why are they so popular?

Universities measure student satisfaction but they do not measure learning. Since organisations focus on what they measure and students like PowerPoint, it stays, regardless of its educational effectiveness.

On the other hand, when I see something pervasive that exists counter to my own values, I wonder (a) are my values out of step and (b) what are the incentives? I think more research is needed.

Curious

Scott Hanselman suggests that, rather than dividing the world into technologists and non-techies, the division is simply about curiosity:

I took apart my toaster, my remote control, and a clock-radio telephone before I was 10. Didn't you? What's the difference between the people that take toasters apart and the folks that just want toast? At what point do kids or young adults stop asking "how does it work?"

There's a great interview question I love to give. "When you type foo.com into a browser, what happens? Then what happens? Then what happens?" I ask this question not because I care how deep you can go; I ask because I care how deep you care to go. Where does your interest stop? How do you THINK it works? Where does technology end and where does the magic (for you) begin? HTTP? TCP? DNS? Voltage on a wire? Registers in chips? Quantum effects?

Perhaps curiosity is an innate thing, perhaps it's taught and encouraged, but more likely it's a little of both. I hope that you're stretching yourself and others to ask more questions and explore the how and why of the world around you.

And he has a great quote on Twitter (from himself): "Non-technical people, here's a secret. We tech folks have no idea what the problem is. We just try to narrow it down, removing variables."

What new tech should I learn?

I'm debating what new area I should explore, assuming I have the time:

I'm thinking about a few side projects, obviously. And this article on new "universal remote" apps in today's Times got me thinking about home automation, too. But that's less a skill to learn than a set of toys to play with.

Lengthening reading list

I have three books in the works and two on deck (imminently, not just in my to-be-read stack) right now. Reading:

On deck:

  • Kevin Hearne, "Iron Druid Chronicles" book 8: Staked.
  • Kim Stanley Robinson, "Mars" trilogy book 2: Green Mars.

Meanwhile, I have these articles and blog posts to read, some for work, some because they're interesting:

Time to read.

Meanwhile, I seem to have a cold. Yuck.

Not what you want to see outside your building

This is what happens when you work across the street from the Chicago Teachers Union:

As part of their negotiations with the Chicago Public Schools and the City of Chicago, the CTU are withdrawing their funds from Bank of America. The Tribune has background:

One day after the Chicago Teachers Union rejected a contract proposal from Chicago Public Schools, district officials said they would slash school budgets and stop paying the bulk of teachers' pension contributions — moves CTU's president quickly blasted as "an act of war."

CPS officials told reporters of their plans while announcing the district would make a fresh attempt Wednesday to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars to keep the school system's finances afloat.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is also taking shots at the union:

[B]y intentionally and unilaterally whacking tens of thousands of CTU members right in their wallet—and spreading word that Rauner is trying to sabotage the bond deal—Team Emanuel did something more: make it clear that, the Laquan McDonald controversy or not, they're tired of playing patsy.

CTU doesn't like it, and is planning a big protest rally. It accuses Emanuel of “intimidating” the union. But there's no sign of a strike, and the union will have to convince Chicagoans that its members deserve a defined benefit pension with a 3 percent compounded annual inflation hike for only the 2 percent of salary members still will have to pay.

Of course, the 500,000 children who could be turfed out of school should the union strike, and the parents who will have to stay home from work to care for them, would be the proverbial grass that suffers when elephants wrestle.

I'll have more about the news trucks outside my building later today.