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Thursday, April 24, 2014

DeTracking Tyson

I'm captivated by the Fox series "Cosmos" featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson. To say that it's a stunning series with amazing graphics really doesn't do it justice. If you haven't begun watching it yet, it's not too late. The series so far is available online, though the first episode only for the next 10 days. You can begin watching with Episode 1.

Watch just one episode of Cosmos, and you will be struck not only by elegant and beautiful graphics, but also by Neil deGrasse Tyson's studied ability to explain scientific facts and theories in everyday, understandable language. The clarity and precision of his explanations not only piques interest but it also stimulates the viewer to think about and enjoy science.

Obviously, in our increasingly complex and technological society, scientific literacy, that is, understanding science and the scientific process, is an invaluable asset. Yet, the percentage of Americans who are scientifically literate is low, at around 28%.

That low level of scientific literacy makes Neil deGrasse Tyson's mission in the new Cosmos all the more meaningful, as he explains and illustrates scientific principles. But throughout his own education, he faced obstacle after obstacle to become the scientist he is today.

Like many students, he was put into "educational tracking," the practice of separating students into ability groups geared toward preparing them for their presumed future occupations. To hear Tyson tell it, he had to continually reject the "traditional" tracking suggested to him, sports or entertainment. After all, at the wizened age of 9, after a visit to a planetarium, he knew he wanted to be an astrophysicist. And after meeting Carl Sagan, he learned what kind of person he wanted to be.

It's notable that DeGrasse Tyson attended school in Bronx public school system, just as it's notable that he resisted educational tracking that wasn't geared toward what he knew he wanted to do. The practice of educational tracking, when it hinders rather than supports student goals, is really a bureaucratic method of impeding a person's self-determination.

Jeannie Oakes recognized that in her book, "Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality." Tracking provides different and unequal access to educational opportunities, she argued. "...it is the social consequences of tracking - sorting students according to preconceptions based on race and social standings and providing them with different and unequal access - as much as any sense of organizational efficiency or pedagogical benefits that makes Americans want to cling to this type of sorting."

So, tracking can be used as an organized process to practice separate and unequal access to education. That belies our American pretense that our country is a land of opportunity, where anyone who works hard and plays by the rules can get ahead.

In the video, starting at 1:01:30, deGrasse Tyson confronts, in his own inimitable style, the question of barriers faced by those who would become scientists.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Voter suppression is not something made up by paranoid African Americans

We are constantly told that voter suppression is some made up pipe-dream of election stealing African American voters.

We are told we are "stupid" and there is no such thing as voter suppression.

Except clearly there is.  The Washington Post Aaron Blake writes this:
Black voters played a huge role in delivering Barack Obama to the White House in 2008 and 2012. And in 2014, they will play a huge role in determining whether the president's party can stop Republicans from taking the Senate.
So I guess we are supposed to believe it's a coincidence the first things red, republican controlled state legislatures did when they became the majority is enact strict Voter ID laws under the guise of combating almost non existent "voter fraud." ?
Despite the GOP’s avowal to reach out to new constituencies following the 2012 election, Republican state legislators have continued to support new voting restrictions in 2013. According to a report by Project Vote, fifty-five new voting restrictions have been introduced in thirty states so far this year. “The 2013 legislative season has once again brought an onslaught of bills to restrict access to the ballot, including proposals to undercut important election laws that have recently opened the electorate to more voters,” writes Erin Ferns Lee. These measures include “strict photo ID policies…voter registration restrictions; voter purges; [felon] disenfranchisement; and policies to cut back or revoke voting laws that have made voting more convenient.” By my count, 235 new voting restrictions have been introduced in forty-four states over the past three years.
And where does the majority of the outcry of voter fraud come from?  It comes from republicans and sore losers who don't think African Americans should have the right (pun intended) to vote unless they are voting for republicans of course.
So here we are, 3 months before a primary and we will have the usual jokers out moaning that Voter ID laws will suppress turnout in the black community. From the President Barack Obama tore into state voter ID laws Friday when speaking to the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, accusing Republicans of trying to block minorities, women and seniors from voting and calling the laws a fraud.
But the reality is much better than this, it will suppress illegal turnout in the black community.
Just so you know Radio Boy, there is no illegal turnout in the black community.  The right to vote is scared to the black community.  It is steeped in blood, sweat, tears, courage, and sacrifice.  It is the only weapon we have to protect the very freedoms you hate us for having.
That's why we don't think Voter Suppression with the State Seal of Approval is funny. It's why we shake our heads at the tough Voter ID Laws enacted by red republican state legislatures. It's why we get weep silently when real voter fraud/suppression gets a slap on the wrist, and the imagined voter fraud is prosecuted to the full extent of the law. It's like  1965 all over again.
Coffin carried through crowd
America.gov

Today's Must Read
Why Obama and the Left Are Hated

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"For more information contact your school board member or Huntsville Council of PTA's" Yeah, right.



I'm back! Before I get into the meat the potatoes of this post I must extend a sincere thank you to Chip for filling in during the void due to someone(s) cutting off the Internet to my home.  I HOPE Chip will continue to post on a daily basis.  We like and encourage diversity here at RedEye's page.  If anyone else interested in being a contributor grab a moniker and send me a writing sample c/o redeyeblog.alabama@yahoo.com.   I would also like to thank all of the readers/lurkers for your continued support. I continue to be amazed and humbled, it is why I blog, and why I am eternally grateful to mooncat and countrycat for encouraging me to blog,  for encouraging me to start my own blog.   ~RedEye

So, I return to find the Huntsville City Schools up to their old tricks in an attempt to keep the school system segregated by race/class, ironically at the same time the University of Alabama Student Government Association votes for integrating the Greek system.

We are constantly being told the NAACP Legal Defense Fund agrees with the Huntsville City Schools rezoning plan,  but clearly that is a lie.

Enabled by the media,  HCS keeps repeating The NAACP Legal Defense Fund did not oppose the Huntsville City Schools rezoning plan meme, counting on the public to infer the NAACP LDF supports the plan.

What they don't count on is the public having enough sense to read the motion for themselves.  The special counsel for the plaintiffs (Norman J. Chachkin) is not opposed to the new school construction plan because of penalties the BOE would incur if they don't start construction of the new Grissom and the new Johnson High Schools by a certain date due to Arbitrage (Page 6-7 and footnotes page 6). The Plaintiffs attorney reserved the right to oppose the rezoning plan and further litigate whatever issues he deems are in the best interest of the class.

 In other words, the LDF has not dismissed this lawsuit.

The motion filed by HCS BOE request the courts approval, and DOJ agreement, to build a new Johnson High School and a new Grissom High School (footnotes page 4). The court did not approve, and the DOJ did not agree to closing Johnson, renaming Johnson, or closing and combining Butler High School with Johnson High School. The closing of Butler is part of the rezoning plan which the LDF reserved the right to oppose.


"For more information contact your school board member or Huntsville Council of PTA's."  Again, the public is supposed to believe their school board member will answer their questions and not know the Huntsville Cluster of PTA's is a racket, I mean,  an arm of the superintendent and the BOA.

Just in case the school board rep will answer questions that aren't written down here are a few:
1. Who is the owner of the Bulk Mail permit?
2. Who generated the distribution list? 
3. Who composed the copy? 
4. Was this approved by the BOE?
5. If it was approved by the BOE when and where was it voted on?
Wonder why the media isn't investigating this?
Strike that.
We know why.

RedEye Roll

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Orange is the New Black

“You spend a lot of time thinking about how awful the prison is rather than envisioning your future.” ― Piper Kernan, author of "Orange is the New Black"

Yesterday, I wrote about the Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences and the difference that including arts and music in a school's curriculum makes in better attendance and academic performance. I wonder if that young boy who added yet another picture to his overcrowded, beautiful but tragic wall as he "does his time" in juvy hall would be there if he had arts and music opportunities before he was incarcerated. Obviously, his artwork engages him.

One area of action that President Obama's privately funded, $200 million dollar initiative, My Brother's Keeper, is focusing on is K-12 students. The latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report clearly shows a great need for improvement.

Kara Kerwin, President of the Center for Education Reform, lamented in a statement on the most recent NAEP report: "It’s a disgrace and truly incomprehensible that after decades of mediocrity, we celebrate the fact that only 34 percent of our nation’s 8th graders can read at grade level and only 34 percent are proficient in math....It’s rare to find a policy issue that 86 percent of the country agrees with, but in education, accountability does just that."

The human toll is evident, if we wish to see it. "Trying to stop a 13-year-old boy from acting out in school will not be as effective if the boy is acting out because he is behind grade level, three or four grade levels...He’s bored, he’s not engaged and he has a sense of hopelessness because he doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to catch up." observed Johnny C. Taylor, of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. Doesn't it make you wonder if that describes the young man incarcerated in juvy hall?

Academic under-performance is clearly linked to the incarceration epidemic, so hopefully arts and music opportunities to K-12 students will be in the My Brother's Keeper initiative.

And the exploding American prison population is an epidemic, one rooted in our national shame. "In 2011 there were more African-Americans in prison or “under the watch” of the justice system than were enslaved in the United States in 1850" wrote Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow. She explained, "Our nation's prison population has more than quintupled. And this is due largely to the war on drugs and the 'get tough'’ movement. The drug war has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color even though studies have consistently shown now for decades that contrary to popular belief, people of color are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than whites, but by waging this drug war almost exclusively in poor communities of color, we’ve now created a vast new racial under-caste."

Among the 15 Executive Actions the Obama administration can take to secure justice, the Brennan Center for Justice calls for the creation of a Presidential Commission on Mass Incarceration in its recent report.

With only 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States has 25 percent of its prisoners. More than 2 million Americans are behind bars. A quarter of the nation’s adult population has a criminal record. The prison population has increased sevenfold since 1970. The country spends a quarter of a trillion dollars a year on criminal justice, but true costs are wider: Economic and social impacts on families and children can continue for generations. The explosion in our correctional population extends far beyond prison: pre-trial detention, parole and probation supervision, and those with arrest records. Public safety does not compel incarceration of this scope. More than half of prisoners are serving time for drug or nonviolent crimes. One in four new prison admissions are for violations of parole. One in five people behind bars are simply awaiting trial.

Incarceration under the guise of "public safety" is as much a profit center for the corrections industry, as well as a very cheap source of manufacturing labor, as for any real attempt at prisoner rehabilitation to re-enter society. It's no surprise then that majority of today's prisoners are black and minority: "Prison labor has its roots in slavery. After the 1861-1865 Civil War, a system of 'hiring out prisoners' was introduced in order to continue the slavery tradition. Freed slaves were charged with not carrying out their sharecropping commitments (cultivating someone else's land in exchange for part of the harvest) or petty thievery – which were almost never proven – and were then 'hired out' for cotton picking, working in mines and building railroads. From 1870 until 1910 in the state of Georgia, 88% of hired-out convicts were Black. In Alabama, 93% of 'hired-out' miners were Black. In Mississippi, a huge prison farm similar to the old slave plantations replaced the system of hiring out convicts. The notorious Parchman plantation existed until 1972."

We are now at the point where the costs of incarceration are decreasing the amount of money available for education, at an average annual cost of $30,000 per prisoner to imprison. "Our penchant for punishment has come at a cost. We spend almost $70 billion annually to place adults in prison and jails, to confine youth in detention centers, and to supervise 7.3 million individuals on probation and parole....States still spend more of their general-fund dollars on education than on incarceration, but the percentage of dollars being used for incarceration is increasing, while the percentage for education is decreasing. In 33 of 50 states, corrections-related costs made up a larger proportion of the general fund than in the previous fiscal year, while spending on K-12 and higher education decreased."

How will the future of that young man in juvy hall be best served?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Harmony of Hope

The children of the Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences (DAAS) choir exemplify the reasons that we need arts in schools. Too often, when budgets need to be cut, the arts are the first to go. There's no comparison between the funding levels of arts and sciences. Federal funding of the arts is $250 million per year, while the National Science Foundation receives around $5 Billion.

Arts education has been slipping for more than three decades, the result of tight budgets, an ever-growing list of state mandates that have crammed the classroom curriculum, and a public sense that the arts are lovely but not essential.

Not essential? Actually, children who are "at risk" of not learning and not graduating benefit enormously from arts and music classes. Those involved are 4 times more likely to to be recognized for their academic achievement and 3 times more likely to have good school attendance.

Part of the lack of emphasis on arts and music education has to do with the fact that over the past 3 decades of No Child Left Behind, many parents haven't had arts and music in their own educations. They literally don't know what they've missed.

The fact that children exposed to arts and music do better in school has lead to innovative ways to infuse the learning environment with arts and music.

Comprehensive, innovative arts initiatives are taking root in a growing number of school districts. Many of these models are based on new findings in brain research and cognitive development, and they embrace a variety of approaches: using the arts as a learning tool (for example, musical notes to teach fractions); incorporating arts into other core classes (writing and performing a play about, say, slavery); creating a school environment rich in arts and culture (Mozart in the hallways every day) and hands-on arts instruction. Although most of these initiatives are in the early stages, some are beginning to rack up impressive results. This trend may send a message to schools focused maniacally, and perhaps counterproductively, on reading and math.

"Teaching to the test" is burdensome for both teachers and students, but involvement in the arts and music frees childrens' spirits and challenges them with the Harmony of Hope.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Graze King: From Welfare Queens to Simple Scofflaws

What a day April 15th was!

First, of course, it's the day we settle up with Uncle Sam. And for anyone who procrastinated, you bad. You got penalties now.

O yeah, and about that health care thing? If you haven't squared that yet, get yourself over to ObamaCareS, er, oops! It's last call (and I'm not talkin' alcohol!): Open enrollment is over for 2014! See if you can still get coverage! Come on now, spread the word! Did you get an email, holding your place?

Critics of the Affordable Care Act call it welfare. You know, like the fraudster reportedly zipping around in her Caddie. She rollin' ya know?

That description of the fictional "welfare queen" was first used by President Ronald Reagan.

But this week, another of President Reagan's legacies sprang into the forefront of national politics. It might be termed "Crazed Graze King."

President Obama, and/or one of his cabinet members, prudently decided to spare our nation and world of the debacle of massacring "women in front" over a 20 year old range fight. Stagecraft.

And the rumor mill can stop spinning: it has nothing to do with Harry Reid and cattle and solar.

Monday, April 14, 2014

GOP Voter Purges Undermine American Democracy

President Obama recently remarked at the National Action Network Convention that "Justice requires the right to vote."

So it behooves us to take a closer look at just one state that has played a pivotal role in the outcome of our national elections.

Of course, for the November 2014 elections, we're only looking at a non-Presidential election. But that election is pivotal to the timeline that our President has available to to implement meaningful change for all Americans. Unless, of course, you're a teabagger who believes that somehow, someway, President Obama will finagle a third term, however cloaked in the specious suggestion, down-low, that it is "political satire." That's Rand Paul's idea of humor: "suggest, mislead, chuckle. You fools." He published thAT red herring on his website. Sure hope his minions recognize they are being played for fools right up front, if they don't read the "fine print" at the bottom of the article.

But I digress. The point of this post is to look at what is happening in just one state, one critical state, in the upcoming "off-election" (meaning non-Presidential election year) and why this upcoming 2014 election is so important. The election results of this state dashed the Gore presidency, plunging our nation into two long wars for oil and an economic catastrophe. Florida 2000.

Under the guise of removing "non-citizens" from the Florida voting rolls, Governor Rick Scott and his appointed Secretary of State Rick Detzner have removed hundreds of voters from the rolls despite the fact that the national database used to cross-check voter identities is "not current enough for accuracy or reliability." Never mind doing it right, just do it, because the GOP doesn't care about accuracy - the GOP's goal is disenfranchising voters.

The targets of voter suppression tactics are those who the GOP calculates will vote Democratic: college students, disabled, people of color, and low-income voters. Indeed, the former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer said: "'The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates,' Greer told The Post. 'It’s done for one reason and one reason only....'We've got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us,’ Greer said he was told by those staffers and consultants.'"

The GOP is just reading the numbers which show that most early voters vote Democratic. "In 2008 Democrats, especially African-Americans, turned out in unprecedented numbers for President Barack Obama, many of them casting ballots during 14 early voting days. In Palm Beach County, 61.2 percent of all early voting ballots were cast by Democrats that year, compared with 18.7 percent by Republicans."

Among the multiple tactics used to suppress voters are: prosecution for voter fraud (which has been shown to be practically non-existent); registration restrictions; limiting early voting; residency restrictions; and, voting ID laws. Our former first black president, Bill Clinton, noted that putting photos on Social Security cards would represent "a way forward that eliminates error" without having to “paralyze and divide a country with significant challenges.” According to the Brennan Center for Justice, as many as 11% of eligible voters do not have government issued photo ID.

In the vanguard of voter suppression is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), who ghostwrites state legislative bills, then sends them to state legislators for introduction and passage. Here's one example crafted to disenfranchise non-drivers, low-income, minority, elderly and students, for whom the state of Florida is currently blocking the use of a college union as a polling place, according to Senator Bill Nelson.

ALEC is funded through corporations, those very corporations where we spend our money. Using the Color of Change letter, you can tell CEOs to stop funding an organization determined to undermine Americans' voting rights.

As President Obama reminded us in 2012: "As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us, together — through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. That’s what we believe."