Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Monday, June 29, 2009

It's not about the test

Ted Shaw, a professor of law at Columbia Law School, made an interesting and appropriate comment about tests while speaking on the Brian Lehrer show on Monday, about the results of a Supreme Court decision on the New Haven Fire fighter's case. He said we should not simply determine the worth of a firefighter based on a single test.

We in education concur. A student's achievement in schools should not be determined by one test. I would like to see portfolios and tests in a fifty fifty combination to determine student achievement. Education is in a quagmire. Teachers who are some of the most educated workers in any profession and are ruled by bosses who have never been members of the educational profession. Didn't the auto industry new head, Ed Whitacre, recently say, "I don't know anything about cars."

Peter Senge may have had a good idea many decades ago, I'm only sorry the educational industry adopted many of his ideas. Arne Duncan is not a teacher, he is a CEO. Now we know how CEO's operate and fair in this country. I only hope real teachers have some say and impact on is decisions, but I doubt it as I teach in NYC and know that teachers get too little respect in our city from its educational leaders. Remember teachers are highly educated in their filed of expertise while the leaders are barely literate in the industry they lead.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Holden Who?

The problem with Catcher in the Rye is the author JD Salinger. I think Jennifer Schuessler missed the mark in her article Get a Life, Holden Caulfield in the New York Times June 20,2009. Holden is very accessible and has been since it was published. I have never had any of my students find it difficult or inaccessible. The problem is that none of my students know of it because the author has spent his life squelching any scholars' attempt to publish about it. The book is not accessible on the Internet, the preferred mode of communication of the new generation.

Let me put this in context. There was a time when horse racing was the biggest sport in this country. Not anymore. Why? Some idiot decided not to make horse racing accessible on the new form of communication, the television. The result is that a whole generation grew up watching baseball, football, and basketball on television, then golf, and tennis and hockey. Not horse racing, except when the triple crown came around. Horse racing committed suicide.

So now back to the present day. Anytime anyone tries to write an intelligent essay on Catcher in the Rye, and use parts of the book to support arguments the author emerges from the bowels of obscurity with a battalion of lawyers to stop such web publishing. As we who teach English know that this is a classic that won't be realized for maybe another generation. Holden is everyone, and yet the man who created this masterpiece is too dumb to realize this and his death may be the very thing Holden needs to live.

When my fifteen year old had to read this book last year, he was amazed by the book and was even more amazed at its obscurity. A year later he still mentions Holden and wonders. Catcher still offers some good 'text to self' references. As a teacher I learned early about why some kids behave as they do was because of their parents. Once we meet the parents we soon love the kids because now we know where their problem comes from. The reason Holden can't get a life Jennifer, is because of an overbearing parent. Holden is still very accessible.

How many people understand the humor of this cover from a June 2007 New Yorker:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Will they ever learn?

On May 31, 1995 Mitchell Moss concluded his Op-Ed for New York Newsday titled "Ray Cortines Must Be Doing Something Right" with this paragraph:
The school system's problem is not a lack of leadership but the failure of politicians to recognize that cuts in school spending will undermine the city's economy and long-term competitiveness. We now have a schools chancellor who is not in any body's hip pocket. Nevertheless, even a strong chancellor cannot overcome the political abandonment of the public schools. The leaders of the city and state believe that tax cuts create jobs, but what happens if they are wrong and we get the worst of both worlds: no new jobs and no skilled labor? If that happens, by 1997, education will replace crime as the critical issue facing the city. Do we really have to kill our public schools in order to save them?
That's right fifteen years ago, Cortines, was in the middle of things in the NYC schools. Today, he is in the middle of it in the LA schools. I've always liked Cortines' style and work. He is a serious educator in a tough position. He understands education like few educational leaders. What is happening to education in California is criminal. What is happening to education in this country is criminal. We don't have any more feet to shot, they are both gone.

We keep hearing politicians speaking beautifully and respectfully about schools and the function of education in this country, and then when they leave the podium and roll up their sleeves, education gets hammered. What dictators do in other countries to their teachers from cutting off their tongue or even beheading them, US politicians commit more civilized crimes against education by cutting funds, trimming staff, and overloading classroom with more students. We are a nation that abhors torture, but as we have learned we have practiced it and demonstrate our skills when it comes to education.

Just as the Iranians are disgusted with their politicians; the Brits are disgusted with their parliament members; the Italians are embarrassed by their PM; New Yorkers are leaderless as its senate behaves like a bad married couple; and Washington is educationally leaderless.

We keep hearing great stats from our school leaders, and yet our jails are still filled. I believe their is a correlation between our school success or lack of it and the jail population. In other countries, students who do not continue with their education are given opportunities to learn a trade and are given opportunities to learn how to work. Not in America. Our students who don't continue in educational pursuits are on their own and too often end up in jail. I find the rhetoric of our politicians about education insulting since we see how they behave so badly when the speech is over.

Now I reached back to a 1995 Op-ed. We can reach even further back in history, all the way back to Socrates to hear complaints about education. We all know Socrates' fate.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Power of the Internet; Power to the People!

I am following the situation going on in Iran following their election and am very impressed with the peacefulness, but more by the power of the Internet in spite of the government's attempt to squelch it the the people's voice. I don't think they can shut down the net, we have tried here. It was designed for nuclear war, so shutting it down is probably impossible. Proxies are being set up. Just as our scholars find proxies to sidestep the NYCDOE filters, I don't think Iran or anyone else can stop the news flow. As I have heard it, when you have 1 in 100 Iranians who is a hacker, that one person is doing the work to let others communicate. Also I heard that those outside Iran have been changing their Facebook and Twitter location to Iran. Jared Cohen asked Twitter to minimize the down time of Twitter. I don't think a Tienanmen Square massacre will happen because of size of the protesters and the world watching, but one never knows. Listening to those voices getting out is very refreshing. Talk about power to the people. I am not happy about hearing how colleges dormitories are being attacked by the military. I am reminded of my connection with a school in Karachi, Pakistan immediately after 911, and the frightening project we did then. Much of my information comes from NPR and BBC, not US news agencies. In fact, I have stopped watching the news agencies in the US, as I find them badly wanting. I read the NYTimes with a grain of salt and watch nothing on TV anymore. Access to Internet news sources is far superior, to my way of thinking. US media is more about the economic bottom line than truth at this point.

I think it is time for the world to get involved before it goes too far.

On another note, I opened an email from a former student this morning.
Hello Mr. Nellen,

I am (name withheld) from Murry Bergtraum Class 1987. I am glad to see you enjoying yourself on the internet. Even back in the 1980's you were encouraging the use of technology (word processors) to write papers.

I remember you encouraged me to become an electrical engineer so I could become an astronaut. Well I did become an electrical engineer but instead of piloting the Space Shuttle, I am piloting the electric power grid.

As for my family, I am married for nearly fifteen years with two boys (soon to be 14 and 10) and two dogs.

Be well and take care.
(name withheld)
MBHS 1987
We all love getting these notes from former students. It made me smile. Just as I was encouraging my scholars about the power of the technology then using current technologies, I am still doing that with further encouragement in the alternative energies with assignments like this from the past fall,

As we hear about how the Internet has changed the business aspects of the print media, we are seeing how it has become a powerful political tool. Don't forget Jesse Ventura and how he used it to become a governor and of course how Barack Obama used it so well. Change is here, it ain't just a coming, so let's sit back and enjoy the ride.

Power to the People.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


I love this time of the year as I am able to assess my scholars' work. I have their webpages to view and their folders with all the printouts of their pages loaded with my comments.

Throughout the semester, I go to the class blog and open the pages of the scholars who were in class, so that I can assess the day's work. I do this everyday of the semester. I find I spend less time assessing the scholars' work then I did before I used technology. The procedure is to go to the scholar's page, access the page that was worked on, view the page source, copy the code, paste it in a word processing program, double space the text they wrote, and print it out. I assess the code if I need to and the text. When the scholars enter the next day, they collect their assessed work and login and make the corrections and continue working on the document.

CyberEnglish has become more of a writing class. The scholars spend nearly 90% of each class writing and reading. They read texts and classmate's pages. They write their pages in class, especially since so many of them don't have access at home, work, or have to care for their own children. While they work at their computers, I work at mine viewing them work on my computer which allows me to view their screens. I speak to them about their work as they work from a far. These become the teaching moments. I use what I see on their screens as the fodder of those times I speak to them as a class and have the power of displaying a scholar's page on all the scholars' screens. Because I have all this technology, I find I am doing so much more teaching then I did before this technology.

Assessment is a daily process. The technology lets me view the work as it is being created. This is not really possible for teachers who don't use technology because of handwriting and scholars tend to hide their work till they are done. So I can intercept a problem before it compounds itself. Each day, I have access to the day's work because it is online. I have control of how I view their work and this is important. I format the product and never have to deal with handwriting or different formats or different paper.

Feedback is key in any writing class, as well as any other class and CyberEnglish continues to amaze me at its power, especially when it comes to assessing the work of my scholars. After a brief conversation and demonstration with a colleague, I think she is more open to trying it next semester as she slunk off to continue her final assessment, which I have completed.