The Vocabulary of Sacrifice

Chris Wiseman, a development officer at Loyola University in New Orleans, had this to say on Marketplace on Friday:
When Hurricane Katrina hit, I was one of the fortunate; my family made it to Baton Rouge for a long exile. The first Sunday after the storm, the church we found was packed with its own parishoners as well as exiles like us. Many of those exiles were enrolling their students in the parochial school. Despite the influx of New Orleaneans, the pastor told the congregation that they shouldn't worry about any decrease in services for their own families: their children would get the same excellent education. Needless to say, the generosity of so many people, including that pastor, overwhemlmed me. But I'm also deeply troubled by the hesitancy of that pastor and all our national leaders to mention the necessity of sacrifice. Without that, New Orleans and the Gulf Coast will never be rebuilt.

President Bush has said that his massive aid plan for the Gulf Coast requires spending cuts, not tax increases. That sounds like a mere accounting maneuver. But cuts inevitably mean real harm to public spending on behalf of citizens everywhere else. Right wing free marketeerism, left wing libertinism, technological utopianism, media hedonism, and cheap-labor Wall-Martism have all seriously impoverished the vocabulary of sacrifice.

The fact of the matter is that my children are crowding your children's classrooms, my car is slowing your rush hour traffic; my city's resurrection will show up in all of our childrens' tax bills. I already worry about my children's interrupted educational progress, my roof, my job, my birthplace. But now I worry about backlash, too. If our leaders are not honest about what all Americans will have to sacrifice to rebuild the Gulf Coast, citizens might justifiably be angry when they notice decreased services or higher tax bills. I don't know what, exactly, if anything, the rest of American owes us, but I do know that we all deserve at least a few plain words about sacrifice.

A roof over their head

Over a million people have been displaced due to Hurricane Katrina and it's aftermath according to some accounts. Hundreds of thousands of these people will not be able to return to their homes for months, if ever. Many have lost everything.

My wife and I have been talking about what we could do to help those in need. The big disaster relief organizations like the Red Cross and Catholic Charities seem to want cash donations. That's understandable I suppose. Cash is easier to handle logistically (no need to warehouse it or truck it around). But our budget is a bit thin, so what can we do?

Well, one of the things we've decided is to offer room in our home to some of the evacuees. We have a fairly good-sized house with a guest room and all. I think we could probably sleep a family of six without any trouble. I've tossed an idea around with some of our friends from church, and many of them are willing to help too. We're beginning to sketch out a plan.

We're going to try to form teams to support evacuee families. Some of us, like my wife and I, will actually house the evacuees. Others will help by providing meals, clothing, personal care items and other sundries, prepaid phone cards, etc. We're also looking at other contacts we have to help find people jobs or other services.

I'm kind of excited by this! I think it'll really help, at least a small number of people, in a very big way. It's something that's certainly doable, especially with a whole team of people supporting each evacuee.

Any other ideas for helping with the relief efforts, other than cash donations? Anybody have experience with this kind of thing? Any advice?

An amazing day

Zaidman & Smith, travelling on the massive cruise liner Queen Elisabeth 2, stopped in Malta for a day earlier this week. From DanceMetaphor:

Valletta, Malta. The port was absolutely stunning, square sandstone buildings, brilliant sunshine and gorgeous blue water. We awoke early, arranged to meet up with some crew and caught a taxi into town. We ate in a cute little cafe, with cute maltese staff serving us. Quality food for the first time in weeks!! And then we met up with Francis the Mad Maltese Taxi driver. He took us in his mighty chariot.... a 1974 Datsun with vinyl bench seats, doors that flung open when turning right, no seat belts and 3 million kms on the clock!!! 50 minutes later we were in Golden Bay Beach. One of the only sandy beaches close to the ship.

Paul started squealing and jumping about when he saw the para-sailing and jet-skiing and there wasnt much stopping him. Off he went for his first ever jet-ski experience. You could hear his excitement from the beach, it was fantastic.We then hopped onto a 20 seater boat where the driver took us out of the bay and into another bay where we saw the most magnificent electric blue waters. We entered these fabulous limestone caves and took a dip in the clearest water I have ever seen. We moved onto these little alley ways of limestone with crystal clear, bright blue water and found another cave to swim in...

This is an amazing place, the QE2, it has gut wrenching lowes (literally) and exhilarating highs. Its a roller coaster ride, thats for sure. Our day in Malta will keep us inspired, happy and energized for the next few weeks. The next two days are at sea, then we are in Lisbon Portugal and then another sea day and back in sunny Southampton. After this cruise we do another short weekend cruise and then off to Norway again! Ahhh... we've been away nine weeks now... over the half way mark... its an amazing experience!!

Europe of misunderstandings

In this special feature on Cafe Babel states that "our linguistic diversity is one of our riches but, as the failure of the Brussels Summit shows, Europeans do not understand one another. The simplicity afforded by a single language is complicating the struggle for multiplicity." In this piece Lindsey Evans asks, Are you speaking my language?:

The Maltese start learning a foreign language aged 5, Finnish schools teach up to 4 different foreign languages, and 80% of Danes are fluent in another tongue. Then there’s the British… British kids lag behind in languages (EC) Multilingual communication is the oil that keeps the wheels of international co-operation turning, makes intercultural understanding possible and strengthens our sense of world citizenship. And it comes in pretty handy for global trade. People with language skills have better job prospects, better brain function and, if a poll of UK dating agencies is to be trusted, greater sex appeal and self-esteem. What better reason to become a polyglot? - a selection of articles

Sun, sand, beaches and studying

Candice is trying to concentrate on her medical studies:

In retrospect, this year has been a rollercoaster...mentally, emotionally... moving miles across the Atlantic and landing here. Malta. The island of sun, sand, and beaches, beaches, beaches. But I'm here to study, study, study... something that I painfully must admit, I did not do this year. I don't know how I managed to pass... that is if I managed to pass. I guess I'll find out in July. At least I know how much I'm gonna have to work next year if I ever want to step foot in a hospital in scrubs with scalpel in hand...


Go to buy something, you'll find it's been lying there for ages. It's either something lying in a shop window, gaining dust and becoming yellow due to the sunshine (and we have a lot of that), or it's old technology still being sold at yesterday's prices. I mean you can shop online and get a cheaper deal within the EU... Even if you want to buy a DVD, it's often cheaper to get it from websites like than to get it from D'Amato or Exotique. The prices are often twice as expensive at the local shops I mentioned, and you can't find anything different from standard Hollywood fare and little else. Try to get a tv show dvd box set. You will get strange looks...

Exploring referendum results

A new Eurobarometer survey just published explores the results of the French and Dutch referenda on the European Constitution in an attempt to throw some light on why citizens voted as they did. The citizens of France and the Netherlands rejected the EU's new proposed Constitution - 54.8% against in France on 29 May, and 61.6% against in the Netherlands on 1 June. The failed referenda are widely seen as a turning point in the European construction process, which is also held up by disagreements over the Union's budget for the 2007-2013 period. This new survey demonstrates that the public across Europe tends to increasingly identify the Union with too much economic liberalism, and there is also a perceptible dissatisfaction with Brussels and a growing resentment to the EU's enlargement.

According to Eurobarometer, the majority of those who supported the Constitution were aged 55 or older (54% of all voters in France and 48% of all voters in the Netherlands). Among those who voted Yes, the most often cited spontaneous explanation was that the Constitution is "essential in order to pursue the European construction (France: 39%, Netherlands: 24%)

Among those who voted No, the relative majority of French citizens cited their fear of the Constitution's harmful effect on employment (31%) and the current status of their country's economy and the labour market (26%). Many French voters who chose Non also thought that the Constitution was "too liberal" (19%) or not "social" enough (16%). Among the Nee voters in Holland, the relative majority cited "lack of information" (32%) and they also cited their fear of a loss of national sovereignty (19%) or complained about the cost of Europe for taxpayers (13%)

In the Eurobarometer samples, 88% of the French and 82% of the Dutch respondents voiced their conviction that EU membership was a good thing. At the same time, while the French (along with the Spanish) widely support the notion of a Constitution for Europe being essential for European construction, the Dutch are far less convinced and most of them disagree

Overall, opinions on the European institutions are fairly negative: while 53% of the French saw them in a positive light, 61% of the Dutch respondents saw them in a negative light. Elsewhere in the EU, public support for the Constitution is on the wane too. In Portugal, a recent poll showed that 49.2% of the citizens would vote against the Constitution. Popular support for the Yes camp is decreasing in Luxembourg and Denmark. Both countries aim to hold a referendum on the issue in July and September, respectively. Some 57% of the public in Poland would support the Constitution, down from over 60% in May. Recent surveys in the Czech Republic and Ireland also show a slump in public support.

Read the Flash Eurobarometer reports: "The European Constitution : post-referendum survey in the Netherlands" (pdf – 829Kb) and "The European Constitution : post-referendum survey in France" (pdf – 555Kb); In Europe, division between old and new - Judy Dempsey for the International Herald Tribune writes that "Many West Europeans did not really absorb enlargement last year. Now, they are keenly aware of it, and fear the EU may be aggravating the threats of globalization by opening borders to cheaper labor and cheaper products."; Two visions for Europe; Immanuel Wallerstein on the ambiguous French 'No' to the European Constitution; From Wired Temples: A Pro-European NO?; Europe, Malta and the Labour Party; Alfred Sant writes To ratify or not to ratify; What the Maltese think about the EU: interview with the Malta Independent on Sunday about the results of the Eurobarometer report on Malta.

Top Ten Euro-cliches for journalists from Observer Blog - 'Malta is too plucky for words'

Google: The engine that rules the world

John Naughton, the Observer’s internet columnist, says that Google ( to whom we are grateful for Blogger) is set on global domination. From this week's Spectator:

Google’s business plan, like Microsoft’s, can be summarized in two words: world domination. In 1975 Bill Gates set out his vision of ‘a computer on every desk and every one running Microsoft software’. Google’s declared mission is ‘to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’. By this the company means all the world’s information. At the moment, for example, it is funding a massive project to digitize the entire text of the books in some of the world’s greatest libraries. When complete, a search will enable online perusal of any text that is out of copyright and selective browsing of copyrighted works (something that worries some academic publishers). In a networked world, Google’s role as the gateway to online information could give it tremendous power. We all know what power does to those who wield it. And if we don’t, a Google search for ‘power, action, corrupt’ will find 205,000 relevant pages in 0.34 seconds.

Married men earn more if their wives stay home

According to Reuters article at MSNBC, a recent report issued by the British Institute for Social and Economic Research concludes that it pays for men to have wives who stay home. Specifically, men with stay-at-home wives earned on average "3 percent more than comparably employed single men." The article goes on to mention that the wage increase "disappears if wives go out to work themselves or don?t do most of the housework," indicating that who tackles the household chores may be one of the determining factors.

I have no argument with that conclusion, as the possible reasons they mention (the husband may have more time to devote to income producing work or developing job-related skills if his wife is taking care of everything at home) seem logical. But a couple of items do kind of irk me about the whole thing.

First, there's absolutely no mention of families where those roles are reversed. I wonder, do working wives with stay-at-home spouses also see a 3 percent increase in wages, and if not, why?

Second, Reuters reports that the researchers analysis points to how "a marriage might allow a husband and wife to focus their activities on tasks to which they are most suited." Then they go on to say that "this would result in the man concentrating on paid work" and imply that women are more suited for housework. Sure, these may be traditional roles, but does that really mean that women are not as well suited to being the breadwinner? And, conversely, men are ill-suited to staying home? That's just pure bunk. As the Boston Globe recently quoted Jerrold Lee Shapiro, a professor at Santa Clara University: "There is no gene for diapering." To which I would add this suggestion: There's no gene for housework or at-home parenting either!

What are Schools For?

In the debate over how to achieve results, we usually take for granted that the overarching purpose of public schools is clear-cut, well-recognized, and agreed upon by all. But if we stop for a moment to ask the question "what are public schools for?" I think we would all be surprised by the multitude of different responses. I'm curious to hear whether anyone out there has taken a good look at the justifications for compulsory public education in their teacher preparation coursework (I know I certainly haven't).

I have read a few pieces recently that have exhorted teachers and schools to be more respectful of students and particularly their parents as the 'clients.' This is clearly problematic: 'clients' aren't normally required by law to use the services being provided. While one of the aims of making school compulsory was to eliminate practices exploiting child labor, the laws are applied equally to truant students who don't work (they just truly don't want to be at school). It could also be said that schooling is made compulsory to meet our nation's labor requirements, but such an authoritarian view is not really compatible with our tradition of encouraging personal freedoms.

I really enjoyed reading an analysis of some of the moral implications of compulsory public education in the book "The Moral Dimensions of Teaching". The article "The Limits of Teacher Professionalization" by Barry L. Bull presents a primer on public education through the lens of the liberal philosophy. The fundamental principal of the philosophy is each human being's right to 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,' the latter meaning the right to pursue whatever the person's vision of the good might be. Moreover, the person must be as free as possible from coercion in rationally determining what is good. One of the central aims of society is to promote free choice while preventing choices that harm others. Education, then, is about creating citizens who are fully capable of exercising their right to choose freely and resist coercion. Perhaps ironically, this includes compelling people to attain this freedom.
Interestingly, this calls into question the 'libertarian' viewpoint that insists on parents' rights to decide what is best for their children. Setting aside their capacity to abuse or exploit their children, the parent-child relationship has coercive or choice-inhibiting tendencies; that is, parents are unable to give their children access to a limitless range of choices, because they are limited by their own knowledge and means, and also because they demand more of their children than they would have a right to expect of them merely as fellow citizens. This creates a gap wherein parents lose the moral right to make all choices for their children and yet where these children do not have the full capacity to choose freely for themselves. Schools occupy this gap.
This has some interesting implications, about which I plan to write more. One of these implications is the permissibility of home or private schooling. Children must be sheltered from indoctrination; that is, exposure to one viewpoint to the exclusion of all others. Home schooling sits in very dangerous territory. Another questionable but common practice is the request for permission from parents (or giving parents the right to exclude their children) before exposing students to potentially objectionable material. If education is supposed to be developing students' abilities to choose for themselves, allowing them to opt out would seem to be permitting the abridgment of their freedom.

Open Source

Darren Kuropatwa at A Difference has been experimenting with wikis as a medium for helping to teach his students math. In this post, he has also started thinking about wikis as a medium through which teachers can collaborate on instructional materials. He has created BPRIME as a place for teachers to share best practices, including a repository for scholarly articles. It looks like a great way to share ideas (in an occupation where telling people how you do things can be perceived as a threatening suggestion that others must do it that way, too).

I think that the methods of open source software are another avenue through which we can harness the immense amount of creative teacher work that is occuring every day in classrooms across the world. Teachers (everywhere, I imagine) face a dilemma. Often (particularly in the humanities) they are expected to teach classes with no defined curriculum, so they must develop a ton of materials on their own. These materials rarely make their way outside of the individual's classroom. But teachers who work with published textbooks and all of the accompanying resources often do a similar amount of work: compensating for errors in the text or for units that don't work well, writing alternate assessments (to match their local standards or personal expectations, or because the canned tests have been too long in the public domain to be secure).

To quote the NCTM Principles and Standards, a curriculum is more than a collection of activities: it must be coherent, focused, and well articulated across the grades. I think it would be difficult for a random assortment of people to create, wiki-style, a coherent curriculum. But open-source software projects, like the many Linux distributions or OpenOffice, present a great model.

How would it work? As with OpenOffice, start with an existing textbook. Acquire the rights and the 'source'- digital versions in plain text and original photos. Release the source under a General Public License, allowing free alteration and redistribution. Manage the project using all of the tools and strategies of good software development, including a repository of all of the relevant documents and meticulous documentation of additions and changes. Encourage user contributions and peer review. Allow the development of different 'flavors'- like the different Linux distributions.

As more and more computers enter classrooms and homes, a greater number of publishers are putting their textbooks on CD-ROM. Perhaps this means the time is right to challenge the dominance of textbook publishers in education, and to encourage teachers to collaboratively self-publish in this manner.

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