Weekly Review: November 27th to December 3rd

I had not realized just how many things come through my newsfeeds in the course of a few weeks. On returning to my newsfeeds after ignoring them to work on my application essays for the Boston Teacher Residency, I had over 1,000 items to review.

Even after clearing out almost all items prior to November 27th — a few of the headlines caught my eye and seemed worth reading — I still had in excess of 400 items to review. So, here are some of my favorites from that review.

These Things Caught My Eye

Progress is so Retro

Not everything that we create today is better than what has been created in the past. Here in Massachusetts, there is an ongoing debate about the Cape Wind Project which aims to build wind turbines — which are windmills, sophisticated windmills but windmills just the same — in Nantucket Sound. And whenever I hear that debate, I wonder how many modern problems we could solve by looking back at the past.

These two TED Lectures, while not specifically addressing that, are variations on that theme.

The ancient water harvesting projects technology of India’s Golden Desert “are often superior to modern water megaprojects.” Anupam Mishra works to preserve these water harvesting techniques.

In Tom Wujec’s talk on the astrolabe, he asks, “What have we lost with more advanced technologies?” Using the astrolabe to tell time, one knew the time but would also know when the sun was going to rise and when it would set, and would know that for all the heavenly bodies on that particular astrolabe.

What other problems could be solved by returning to the knowledge of our fathers and forefathers? New does not always mean better. The strategies for living described by Seneca make more sense to me and give me more for which to strive than anything I have learned in my psychology courses.

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The first step of the scientific method is observation. The first step of being a novelist or a poet is also observation. Though I know many people who would disagree with me, I like to pretend that being a writer is being a scientist of the human condition. But to understand the human condition, you need to understand the universe. Dante references stars and constellation and their movement through the sky in The Divine Comedy.

What is time? Is it simply a number on a dial or in a liquid-crystal display? Or is the whole placement of stars and planets in the universe? Does our sense of time change from looking at the stars? These are the questions I had while reading Doyle’s post, “An informal lesson.

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When people ask me what I studied at college, I joke, “Literature and art history, with a minor in philosophy. I’m economically useless but great at a party!” With so much exposure to culture and ideas, you would think I would always have something to chat about.

Reading my blog, would you be able to guess that I hate small talk? My job requires me to make small talk to make a customer feel more at home or while doing routine maintenance on a customer’s account. I attend dances weekly and need to chat with the other dancers. And I strike up conversations with people on the street when I’m walking around Boston.

I don’t think I am very good at it. Which may be why I don’t like it. But with the holiday season in full swing and frequent holiday parties, it is a good skill to practice. And with the importance of social networks for getting jobs and for advancement, it becomes all the more important. Just because I’m passionate about books and paintings and sculptures doesn’t mean that other people are. To make successful small talk, I’m going to have to dabble a bit in everything. Perhaps one of my resolutions will to become more at ease with small talk and trying not to be boring.

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Well, you could always teach

I want nothing more than to be a high school English teacher in Boston. I want to share my passion for books and ideas with kids just as they become young adults. I want to help them find meaning in a chaotic world and mold who they become based on the literature they choose as their own.

But that seems like a daunting task. From what I’ve heard, there are more English teachers than open positions. The Boston Teacher Residency, a great internship-like program from people who want to enter the teaching field, had 600 applicants in 2008 for 75 spots. Of those 75 spots, only 5 to 10 of them were for English teachers.

The fact is that we need more teachers, even as we face declining state budgets. Teachers have too many students in their classrooms to effectively teach them all. If we want to remain competitive in this new century, we need to fully fund education and pay educators attractive salaries.

In my ideal world, teaching would not be viewed as a fall back career. Teaching would be viewed with equal respect as law and medicine, pay as well, and be as difficult to enter.

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Cheating School? The Pressure to Perform

I dislike many things about charter schools, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), high-stakes testing and our implementation the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), and the Race to the Top. I think all of these programs have a negative impact on public schools and on learning. And when all of the above are acting in concert, we multiply the problems without creating any solutions.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is investigating a charter school in Springfield, MA, for alleged misconduct in administering the MCAS. The school ran the risk of being closed if the students at the school did not improve their MCAS scores. I am afraid that in the era of high-stakes testing, this is only the first of these stories to break and that many other schools, both public and charter, may be manipulating testing to keep their doors open.

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