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Denebola » Book Review http://www.denebolaonline.net The Award-Winning, Official School Newspaper of Newton South High School, Newton, MA Fri, 17 Jun 2011 02:00:19 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.0.2 Dr Marshall A Cohen — History & Social Science, emeritus http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/09/30/dr-marshall-a-cohen-%e2%80%94-history-social-science-emeritus/ http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/09/30/dr-marshall-a-cohen-%e2%80%94-history-social-science-emeritus/#comments Thu, 30 Sep 2010 04:00:59 +0000 Marshall Cohen http://www.denebolaonline.net/?p=4698 With a tear for the dark past, turn we then to the dazzling future, and, veiling our eyes, press forward. The long and weary winter of the race is ended. Its summer has begun. Humanity has burst the chrysalis. The heavens are before it.
‘€ Edward Bellamy 1888

In 1888, Edward Bellamy published a remarkable American classic, Looking Backward. It was a tale of an imagined change that had befallen the United States between the high Gilded Age and a utopian future.
The novel’s hero, Julian West, falls asleep in the year 1887 and awakens to the brave new world of the year 2000.
In Bellamy’s imagined world, the industrial warfare, class conflict, and political corruption that characterized the late Nineteenth Century had given way to a planned society of rational cooperation.
What is most remarkable about Bellamy’s tract was its immediate popularity and influence. Nationalist Clubs sprang up throughout the United States, advocating Bellamy’s prescription for social change based on home-grown, American values.
If industrial and class warfare was the name of the game in Gilded Age America, then the culture wars and the struggle over public schooling is a major focus of conflict in our own age.
The price that we pay for a heterogeneous society is wildly differing notions of what our common schools should do and what values they should instill in our youth.
In a distinct departure from our history, some have suggested that we have no values in common and that it is not the school’s place to teach anything that is not purely technical and connected to the American occupational structure. In other words, there are some who loudly suggest that the only legitimate purpose of education is to prepare students for the workforce.
Kieran Egan is a “big picture thinker.
So pronounces Harvard’s Howard Gardner on the book’s back cover. To be sure, Professor Egan is neither a traditionalist nor a progressive.
He begins with the most fundamental question: what is the purpose of education? He rejects the purpose of delivering to students the received wisdom of the past in terms of drill in the canon. He also rejects the role of primary socializing agent on behalf of society.
Painting with a broad bush, Professor Egan rather coyly states that “Education is a process in which something good is done to the mind.
He proceeds to explain why the education wars have been so nasty, how the goals of our current system are inherently contradictory, and how education might take a direction that avoids some of the either/or suggestions so prevalent today and in the past one hundred years.
In the second half of the book, Egan takes the reader on a decade-by-decade imagined journey in which, like Bellamy, he shows how the utopian future evolved from the contentious past.
* * * * *
A number of educational writers have commented on the incompatible goals of American schools.
We mean to socialize children, acculturate them, and allow them to develop and self-actualize. These goals were seized upon at very specific moments in our history, and they can’t be integrated in a manner that is acceptable to all their adherents.
They are, Professor Egan argues, mutually exclusive, so the schools usually fall back on some mélange that nods in the direction of all three at the same time – an awkward gesture to say the least. “Our three defective ideas, he quips, “prevent each other from doing too much damage.
This is the kind of intellectual flabbiness that causes many, including the academic higher education establishment, to hold the schools in contempt. Piling on, Egan continues: “Ah what a wonder of compromise is our modern conception of education!
* * * * *
Egan professes at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, a school well known for its activism in the 1960′s and 1970′s and for its academic excellence today.
His university work has led to a vision of secondary education that he calls “imaginative education (IE). This vision is some sort of “third way that allows us to avoid the stark black and white views characterized by modern educational theorists.
To use imaginative education one must recognize that education is broadly cultural and involves what Egan calls a “cognitive toolkit.
And what is in this toolkit?
According to Professor Egan’s view, there are five different kinds of human understanding that develop somewhat sequentially in the life of a young person.
The first is somatic understanding, a pre-lingual form that enables a child to make sense of the world in his or her earliest years. As language develops, this mode is eclipsed by, but does not completely replace, something that Egan calls “mythic understanding,
The presentation of reality in narrative form connected to a strong emotional component and tied to concepts that involve polar opposites or dichotomies.
This mode of understanding is connected to metaphor and involves abstract thinking, so it gives the lie to the commonly held notion that children are only capable of “concrete thinking. (Jean Piaget)
In fact, teachers who subscribe to the ideas of imaginative education would try to utilize the human proclivity for this mode of understanding by using rich narrative as a tool.
Romantic understanding, the third mode, comes about when the child intuitively tries to define limits to the mythic qualities described in the polar opposites of mode two.
Romance, is defined as the “desire to transcend the boundaries of reality while recognizing that one is constrained by those boundaries.
The art of the teacher is to recognize what engages such a newly literate mind and to utilize it to present knowledge in an acceptable and useful way.
A preoccupation with heroes is a typical condition of this mode.
The fourth mode is a quantum leap from the other three. It involves the use of concepts made up of general ideas that grow out of the everyday world of particular events. This is called “philosophical understanding.
This important leap allows a person to develop very sophisticated theoretical thinking as well as the anomalies and contradictions these present. It also allows for the construction of “meta narratives that enable the grouping and classifying of complex patterns of thought.
Finally, after all of this cognitive growth, the mind is ready for the ability to discern the difference between what is said and what is meant: “ironic understanding.
This last mode enables the activation of humor, an invaluable tool for the educator.
* * * * *
Good schools and talented teachers, if they understand this scheme of development, can couch their lessons in developmentally appropriate language, using myths, stories, and metaphors to dress up material in order to facilitate learning.
Of course, teachers have been doing this for years without the developmental language of IE, but it’s always nice to have a theoretical scheme to justify practice.
Kieran Egan has a keen eye for the workings of institutions. His account of the six decades between 2010 and 2060 is wickedly delineated.
Particularly sly is his account of the parry and thrust of the various factions of reformers as they interact with politicians and the public over that fifty-year period.
For example, in the period between 2030 and 2040, reformers find themselves reintroducing structures that they have long since abandoned such as separating classical education from simple socialization in response to a set of political dilemmas.
Teachers are even trained differently for the different purposes, and that sets off a struggle over perceived status of the two sets of professionals.
In this way, some of the baggage of an outmoded style of education makes a reappearance due to structural pressures. His utopia is not devoid of the annoying struggles that have characterized our own era.
As with Bellamy’s tract, there is a ring of truth to the scenario as it unfolds. A modern reader knows in Bellamy’s case that the imagined utopia never materializes.
This modern reader must also have doubts that we will be delivered into a future world in which the good guys triumph.
Just so that we are not too comfortable with the utopian outcome, at the end of the book Professor Egan describes the fragmentation of the IE movement, and the continuation of the education wars, albeit on a less intense footing.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Still, according to this interesting tale, the future looks brighter than the present.
* * * * *
The Future of Education is a worthy addition to the literature about the purpose of schools. The general question of what we are educating children for is an important one and must not be forgotten in the rush to measure and quantify learning. Getting there in an efficient and effective manner is very important, but so is the question of where we are headed.

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Book Review: The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/06/10/book-review-the-bridge-the-life-and-rise-of-barack-obama/ http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/06/10/book-review-the-bridge-the-life-and-rise-of-barack-obama/#comments Thu, 10 Jun 2010 10:00:50 +0000 George Abbott White http://www.denebolaonline.net/?p=4403 This is a remarkable account of a remarkable individual’s life.

When he was signing my copy of The Bridge recently, David Remnick abruptly asked me about my Spitfire lapel pin.

The point was not that he noticed it but that’€in Remnick’s mind’€he immediately was translating and then connecting that seemingly discrete detail to a greater significance and perhaps larger pattern.

So, too, Remnick’s very big book about “the life and rise of Barack Obama.

Its five hundred sixty-odd pages contain seventeen mostly familiar images, good bibliography and index, and no maps. There is richness on every page, a new face explained, an old story reframed.

A reader never has the sense it contains a word too many, a word unconnected to that bigger scheme: Obama’s story is the archetypal American story not just of this century but any, his “improbable rise to the nation’s highest office at once the apogee of the American Dream, moreover, Obama’s life the hoped-for “bridge.

To what, from what? Answering those questions makes Remnick’s chronicle, with its outspoken and also understated racial theme’€easily the most interesting, deft and thoughtful of the dozens already in print. The burden of these many pages is a fleshing out of the many levels of that richly ambiguous over-arching bridge metaphor, the “lands on either side, and the Herculean and shape-sifting efforts necessary for Obama to make the passage from one to the other.

* * *

The initial bridge is a physical one, a small, structure in Alabama which rapidly becomes an example of the skills which have made Remnick the premier political journalist of his generation.

It’s March 4th 2007, Obama is barely a month into his “audacious presidential campaign and to speak at Brown Chapel, in Selma. Three decades earlier Civil Rights leaders and their followers began a now-celebrated march from Selma to Montgomery.

On the bridge six hundred marchers were confronted by imposing lines of heavily armed state troopers and deputized volunteers. Marchers praying were suddenly attacked, tear gassed, beaten, dozens carried off to nearby (black) Good Samaritan Hospital the rest retreating back into Selma and the chapel.

The march survived “Bloody Sunday, it did get to Montgomery, and each year its survivors and the Civil Rights movement are memorialized at the chapel by speakers local and national. Obama has been invited by no less than John Lewis, a hero above heroes and Obama’s lodestar, who suffered a fractured skull that horrific day in 1965 and dozens more beatings and jailings over a decade of fearless protest.

Obama’s part is anamnesis, to remember and to praise. Too young to have done more than read about heroic events and heroic personages he nevertheless feels heir to their sacrifice, his biracial identification with their unfinished mission his motivation to bridge the gap between demands and fulfillment, and as a conciliator, bridge other gaps as well.

As Remnick frames it, at Selma Obama will “tell the story that changed America.

The story sits uneasily between our two sacred texts, the Declaration and the Constitution, the gap between “all men are equal and some men are “3/5ths of a man. The gap is the line Gunnar Myrdal called the decisive question for American society, the color line; the question of race and equality.

Now it just so happens that alongside the aging Civil Rights greats and a small army of press the Democratic Party frontrunner Hillary Clinton will also be present at Brown Chapel. She has her negative baggage but has also criss-crossed the globe, met world leaders, been privy to the highest state secrets, and has held the confidences of a past President. Place and time are therefore loaded for opportunity but also booby-trapped for failure as this young “skinny kid with a funny-sounding name, as Obama puts it, explains himself, for

He planned to discuss in public what so many believed would ultimately be his undoing’€his race, his youth, his ‘Ëœexotic’ background. ‘ËœWho is Barack Obama?’ Barack Hussein Obama?

And Remnick makes explicit Obama’s (and his) agenda,

From now until Election Day, his opponents, Democratic and Republican, would ask the question on public platforms, in television and radio commercials, often insinuating a disqualifying otherness about the man: his childhood in Hawaii, and Indonesia; his Kenyan father; his Kansas-born, yet cosmopolitan mother.

They will ask about a good deal more of course, including a Chicago preacherman named Jeremiah Wright and a former SDS “Weatherman Bill Ayers, though a flip through the chapter titles doesn’t begin to unlock the personal and political depths Remnick explores.

Everyone more or less “like Obama has parents, a childhood, attends schools, colleges/universities, takes jobs and then, Ho hum, settles down. Not this guy, not so simple and not without often riveting understandings of this hitherto unexplored life.

Obama in multicultural Hawaii, we will learn, attended (on scholarship) one of the earliest established and most influential prep schools in America; Obama’s Indonesia was emerging from a Colonial past and clouds of civil war swarmed around his Third-World doorstep, a youngster’s world not unlike Kipling’s Jungle Book.

Before inquiring about my pin Remnick in his talk described an earlier visit to Cambridge and a walk from his Harvard Square hotel to the Law School quad; glimpses at the lecture halls, libraries and offices of the fabled Harvard Law Review (where Obama was elected its first black president). All now are developed through names like Bell, Ogletree, Kagen, and Tribe.

Sara Palin thought it a crowd pleaser to mock Obama’s several year stint as a community organizer on Chicago’s abandoned South Side, getting to know and taking the side of the under resourced, battered into apathy by unresponsive or indifferent bureaucracy. (For that I would like to run a herd of moose over her lawn.)

Around Newton South Obama’s Occidental College could as well be compared with Amherst or Haverford, Obama’s junior year cross country transfer to Columbia and his ramping up studies something like Swarthmore-on-the-Hudson.

Obama did a shorter stint in corporate New York City than his friend Deval Patrick in Coco-Cola Atlanta, yet likely to the same knowing educational/experiential end.

After Obama’s trench warfare slog as an organizer, the pressure cooker/snake pit years at Harvard Law could hardly be seen as relief. Like so many others he lived in the Law School library, emerging into the light for a meal or one of those fierce B-ball pickup games alongside Memorial Drive.

So many questions, so many particulars, says Bertolt Brecht. Remnick continues,

Obama’s answer to that question’€’ËœWho is¦”€helped form the language and distinctiveness of his campaign. Two years out of the Illinois State Senate and barely free of his college loans, Obama entered the Presidential race with a serious, yet unexceptional, set of center-left positions¦But who Obama was, where he came from, how he came to understand himself, and, ultimately, how he managed to project his own temperament and personality as a reflection of American ambitions and hopes would be at the center of his rhetoric and appeal.

Language, the word, is key in American political life, written and oral, whether the directness of an Adams, the eloquence of a Jefferson, the Biblical decisiveness of a Lincoln, the ringing confidence of a Roosevelt, the smooth forcefulness of a Kennedy’€words matter and the perceived personality behind those words can make them, given at the right moment, incarnate in luminous action. Obama’s personality, multiracial and multicultural, grounded and in process, was at once like no other and at the same time Everyman. But says Remnick,

In addition to his political views, what Obama proposed as the core of his candidacy was a self’€a complex, cautious, intelligent, shrewd, young African-American man. He was not a great man yet by any means, but he was the promise of greatness.

* * * *

Remnick bookends a generally chronological account’€punctuated by impressive set pieces on individuals and issues’€with the layered Selma episode described earlier and a similar but even more layered, more deeply moving series of three episodes about “other blacks in the White House. It’s worth noting qualities of Remnick’s chronicle that set it apart.

Range, context, contacts, language, empathy.

Range. Remnick was the Washington Post’s man in Moscow for years, his fluent accounts of the dissolution of the USSR demonstrate how he tuned his antennae to an extraordinary range of political, economic and cultural change. He just knows more than most good journalists and writes with more literary skill and focused passion than most good scholars.

Little wonder when writing of the Kansas, Texas, Seattle and Hawaii worlds of Obama’s “white family we learn more from Remnick than others. We are also informed with keener analysis about Obama’s “black Kenya father and the stultifying cronyism and corruption of post-British colonialism that father returned to and sunk into after Harvard graduate studies. Additionally, if Obama’s father was absent almost from his birth, his mother Ann Dunham was absent more than we thought.

Context. For New York resident and New Yorker editor-in-chief, Remnick surely knows his American South’€and with his Ali book Black America and sport’€as few others, in or out of the Academy. Given an intellectual President who gets his solitude and clear thinking by shooting hoops, and non-trivial database.

Still fewer have “read the Clintons with as much subtlety, tact and directness. If old “Bubba could straight-arm for Hillary in the South Carolina primaries, the details of his long-standing contacts with the Black community throughout America are deftly suggested a dozen different ways, including such widely varying examples as Bill’s canvassing for Chicago Congressman Bobby (Black Panther) Rush, knowing the last stanza to “Lift Every Voice and Sing, and his Mandela inauguration “moonwalk on the soul train [dance].

Remnick tells us more about Obama’s Chicago’€Michelle’s as well as Barack’s'€and Harvard Law School before and after Barrack, and the contact sport arena also known as the Illinois state Senate, than others who appear to do it on the web rather than on the ground.

Contacts. Who has translated to significance the complexities or importance of Obama’s elite Punahou School, historically underwritten by pineapple/sugar barons, the punishing class and racial tensions just beneath its “comfortable surface?

Hawaiian Frank Marshall Davis, ‘Ëœaging poet and journalist friend of Obama’s grandfather who knew Richard Wright and Paul Robeson, was a kind of alternative island school, his influence not registered elsewhere.

And Remnick alone notices that Obama’s mother’s PhD advisor for her fascinating’€not arcane’€anthropology dissertation the post-industrial corrosion of Indonesian crafts (blacksmithing) is Ann Dewey, granddaughter of the grandfather of American progressive education and arguably America’s greatest philosopher, John Dewey.

Language. Just as Obama plays the changes on his name, and is reflexively characterized as a “power listener, Remnick’s interview material is satisfyingly apt. He himself attends to Obama’s editing skills on the Law Review, the audacity of imagination and word smithing in writing Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, “a good book, in Remnick’s judgment, “that became an important one.

Empathy. Politicians get a bad rap when they speak about others in language and details that betray ignorance, and thereby self-serving motivations. As Obama becomes a more engaged state legislator, a more exacting and modulated orator he began, Remnick notes,

To develop his signature appeal, the use of details of his own life as a reflection of a kind of multicultural ideal, a conceit both sentimental and effective.


He was no longer straining to be someone he was not. Instead, he was among those politicians who were forging a new identity for the next generation of black leaders¦

An astute and (apparently) tireless practitioner of the old school of worn shoe leather, Remnick appears to have an endless stock of characters in his newzy, whose lives drive the power of stories.

From Venice, Florida, Ashley Baia, a poor white volunteer who brings an older black retired man to support Obama, to those in his astute closing episodes, the black slaves who built the White House, Frederick Douglass’ simply amazing encounters with Abraham Lincoln, Elizabeth Keckley, Mrs. Lincoln’s “dressmaker (who dressed the bodies of both Lincoln’s son and assassinated Lincoln).

And, finally Election Eve, speaking in Grant Park, Chicago, of the life of Ann Nixon Cooper, “who, at the age of a hundred and six, had just voted for [Obama] in Atlanta,

She was born just a generation past slavery [said Obama]; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn’t vote for two reasons’€because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin. And tonight I think about all that she’s seen throughout her century in America’€the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can’t, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes, we can.
At a time when women’s voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes, we can.
When there was despair in the Dust Bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs, and a new sense of common purpose. Yes, we can.
When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes, we can.
She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that ‘ËœWe Shall Overcome. Yes, we can.
A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after a hundred and six years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change.
Yes, we can.

“On a night of triumph, Obama’s tone was not triumphal, wrote Remnick. “it was not ringing; his tone was grave¦He had simultaneously celebrated identity and eased it into the background. Ann Nixon Cooper was an emblem not only of her race, but of her nation.

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Book Review: The Death and Life of the Great American School System http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/04/14/book-review-the-death-and-life-of-the-great-american-school-system/ http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/04/14/book-review-the-death-and-life-of-the-great-american-school-system/#comments Wed, 14 Apr 2010 04:00:18 +0000 Denebola http://www.denebolaonline.net/?p=4096

Amanda Sands

In a buzzing lecture hall at Harvard’s Ed School, an elderly lady whispered to her old companion “It’s wonderful¦to explain why she changed her mind. A couple of young men entered the room, nodding to seats in the last row. “Is that a good spot? one asked the other. “Yeah, the other replied, knowing they would need a place where they could discuss what they would hear, “we can kinda whisper to each other.

Professors, teachers, students, conservatives, radicals, young people, old people’€everyone gathered in anticipation of one influential woman, the face of conservative education reform in the United States for decades: Diane Ravitch.

But she looked altogether tame, her face, a visible battlefield of laugh lines and years of “spirited discussions, quaintly framed by her graying hair. When Dr. Ravitch approached the podium, the audience waited with baited breath, ready for her momentous confession.

“I was wrong, she said to the crowd of latent listeners. This sentiment, Ravitch’s newest conclusion, is expressed in her 20th and most recent book: The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education.

Ravitch, who served as the Assistant Secretary of Education and Counselor to the Secretary of Education under the administration of President H.W. Bush from 1991 to 1993, spearheaded the infamous No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act through Congress in 2002. Since then, she has been a strong and vocal advocate of standardized testing to evaluate K-12 schools. NCLB intended to dramatically advance education for school-aged children, ultimately leading to all children’s “proficiency in subjects like math and reading by 2014. We are four years away from that initial goal, and from the looks of the past eight, as Ravitch puts it, “NCLB is not working.

So what was behind her sudden change of heart? According to Ravitch, the countless failures of NCLB were unpredictable back in 2002. She countered her inability to foresee these issues by suggesting that “maybe there are a lot of people smarter than [she was].

She now claims, contrary to popular belief, her opinion hasn’t changed as radically as the media like the New York Times has recently characterized. An avid supporter of testing eight years ago, now Ravitch says that she is “not actually opposed to testing, rather, she opposes testing for “accountability purposes.

These “accountability purposes are the basis by which, under NCLB, the government reserve the right to fire the teachers of poorly performing students, withhold additional funding from their districts, and even shut down “failing schools.

To many, the idea of a school “failing to meet adequate yearly progress (AYP), and subsequently losing its integrity, seems harsh, even counterproductive. Ravitch previously preached that it was best to teach these schools a lesson: yield higher test scores or suffer the consequences. The problem with this was schools teaching “to the test, producing better test-takers rather than kids who undertstood.

Naturally, enough states got the message, began “dumbing-down standards for children’s assessment in “proficiency to ensure that more kids passed to evade their schools’ penalization.

The gains, at first, were, as Ravitch said, “incredible’€but they were just that: wholly unbelievable. For example, the state of Mississippi leaped to an astounding 89 percent proficiency among elementary school children, while on closer examination, only 19 percent were adequately performing.

Cut scores were lowered, results became “inflated, teachers were trained testing skills, and the American education system went down rather than up. “We’re on the path to miseducating a generation of American children, Ravitch said.

Like most, she feels that this is not how education should be, despite the years she spent fighting for the passage of NCLB, paired with her support for increased standardized testing for so long. “All children in a democratic society should have a quality education, Ravitch said.

Now that we know and agree about how detrimental NCLB is to American schools, the next move is uncertain. Ravitch warned that people should “beware of miracle solutions to complex problems, but what ideas has she had?

Many argue that Ravitch dug the hole that we are in today with her own conservative activism. Some feel that trying to salvage our current approach would be better than overhauling the entire system. They argue that there are some benefits of NCLB that should be kept alive, but for reasons other than school evaluation. Dan Koretz, a speaker at the forum, mentioned that the test scores reaped yearly from mandatory NCLB testing are simply “incomplete, not inaccurate.

Others believe that education reform calls for a total renovation of the current system. As Koretz pointed out, we didn’t have to wait for the failure of NCLB to see that certain educating strategies don’t work. NCLB led us astray for years, leading us farther from alternative routes to a better education system that may have been more successful. These folks have absolutely no faith that tests possess one iota of truth, no matter how convincing the data are.

An example of this contentious data can be seen when comparing state-level numbers with federal numbers. While there may be a statistical significance in the difference between students’ education before and after NCLB at the federal level, the numbers may conclude to be statistically insignificant at the state level, even if the data, when pooled, is collected on the same 64 million kids in the American school system.

This statistical enigma is called “Simpson’s paradox, and it is one of the reasons for widespread confusion regarding the seemingly fudged levels of improvement among students before and after the implementation of NCLB. This stealthy practice has been used to twist information in favor of both parties, for and against the returns of the policy, allowing the deductions of conflicting conclusions from the same sets of data.

Something must be done. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s agenda has three main points, one of which specifically pertains to the immediate issues with NCLB: firing substandard teachers and hiring an “army of new teachers, rewarding educators who are “doing a great job, and aiding struggling schools “rather than punishing them.

Other factors in this ongoing debate include the role of charter schools, teachers’ qualifications and evaluations, and the potential business opportunities arising in the field of education.

Ravitch “believe[s] in the original intention of charter schools, which was to create an alternative to other public schools that has more freedoms than regular schools, established by the school’s charter. But she suggested that we not focus on the 3% of American children enrolled in charter schools for the time being. “Charter schools, she said, “are extremely variable in quality. She argued that more attention should be paid to the other 97% of students in regular public schooling.

The teachers’ adequacy in public schools, charter or not, is also an issue. If the system changes for students, it should change for teachers as well. Raising standards for teachers, requiring that educators major in the subject they teach, hiring principals and superintendents who are teachers themselves would greatly improve the current system.

The issue of profit-oriented goals linked to public education has people worried over the sincerity of such new programs. Primary and secondary education is virtually the only unexploited market left in the United States, and business people may look to reap the benefits of such a massive consumer base. “This dog-eat-dog mentality, Ravitch said of those who wish to capitalize on public schools’ needs, “is not appropriate. She also pointed out that “even business doesn’t operate that way.

Marshall Cohen

Dr. Ravitch’s latest book on education is a good one, I greatly enjoyed it, as well as her Harvard lecture.

She writes well, isn’t gimmicky, and doesn’t use that worn-out education jargon. She’s actually an historian, so she has a well-informed perspective. She gets to have opinions because she’s obviously read widely and just as obviously reflected upon it.

Before reading The Death and  Life of the Greeat American School System I remember hearing Ravitch on another occasion, I remember something so characteristic of her conservative values’€Something like, If kids need to have a role model, I would rather that they admired an Odysseus than a Rambo.

It might have been Achilles, but the point is she picked up on a classical Greek allusion, something much richer than the cartoon fluff we get in the media. Bentham remarked that “pushpin was as good as “poetry. It’s all the same. No, Ravitch says, it isn’t all the same. Utilitarianism doesn’t rule; some things are inherently more worthwhile and richer than others.

I read her work in the late 70s, perhaps The Troubled Crusade, about education reform efforts and how they seem to repeat themselves, and end up hurting kids. What struck me? First of all, she was certainly a conservative in terms of the spin she put on education and education reform. Even though I am not a conservative, it was a credible narrative. Some points I disagreed with but thought it a valuable book.

Reading her latest,the wonderful thing now is that we are in much greater agreement about what’s happening to schools, what they need.

How so, what do I mean by conservative? Well, people are conservative and liberal in different ways. Think about how one sees economic policy, personal values, interpretation of foreign policy, and you can see how a single individual can contain quite different attitudes, seeming contradictions.

Ravitch was on the E. D. Hirsch side of education. His work exemplified a slew of books that said certain things  are worth knowing, other things are less worth knowing.

This is certainly true in one sense but if you extend your inclusion/exclusion strictures too far, your belief in an absolute, ‘Ëœcanon,’ a list of books and personalities children should know, and often no more, you close off the present.

She tended more in that direction than liberals, who would argue there were many things of value in the present as well as past, that students could know. Ravitch would come down for what she called a rich, time-tested curriculum.

Again, if you cast the argument as content vs. experience, she came down on the content side but, quoting Dewey in her lecture, she’s never been an absolutist in the sense of entirely excluding experience. I am quite liberal in many ways but do not necessarily disagree with Dr Ravitch that one problem with education reform is a certain faddism, every few years a new idea that will be the Silver bullet.

Meaning? if everyone does just this one thing, follows this one process, like put purple in your hat, all schools will be OK. It ends being just trendy, and the question arises what really gets changed that produces a fundamental good in classrooms.

Before The Death and Life of the Great American School System appeared, I think she did drink the killer Kool-Aide in being such a powerful national advocate of this stuff about ‘Ëœaccountability.’ The Right in American social policy values increasingly relentless monitoring of schools, teachers, and students but has become exclusively concerned with it.

That’s part of the mania for testing, and the blind self-assurance that everything of value can be tested. Planning and policy has come to be governed by an obsession, that every penny spent must be reflective of a practice that will improve test scores and prove understanding. In the end, you only spend money for things that “work in the narrowest pragmatic sense.

Ravitch’s new narrative is helpful in explaining this kind of thinking from the start, from the “Nation at Risk criticism of the Reagan years, late 70s to early 80s, and how this policy developed today to our present with Bush and now Obama.

The assumption was high test scores meant solid understanding.

Ravitch says data no longer supports this assertion, and no test, certainly no one test should be used as though it were a perfect instrument. In both her book and lecture she argued one test to measure teacher performance, or student performance, in the absence of other measures, was ridiculous.

Although Massachusetts’ MCAS is touted as the best out there, I have had issues with it, and still feel this test does not report what it’s asserted it reports. The question is measuring skills vs. knowing stuff.

Few tests do either well, and certainly not both together. A student reads Catcher in the Rye, then does 30 questions, the test “proves they either got it or didn’t. But, what exactly did they get? Ravitch now says those tests simply don’t tell us enough about what young people learn, or, how they are learning it.

Ravitch has moved from the True Believer camp.

Chester Finn’€who never met a businessman or a number he didn’t like’€was a collaborator, now it’s the progressive Debbie Meier with whom she shares a blog. Earlier, it was apply this business model to schools to get better results. Set up target goals, do research and get data, go for “hard outcomes, reward and punish.

It’s the factory system, Grad grindism, whipping public schools into line, denying funds and punishing teachers and kids until they become the cartoon “state school, and then you close them, sell off the buildings, re-open with more efficient for-profit charters. Those Businessworld standards are here. I go to meetings where they say, If it can’t be measured, don’t talk about it.

Dr. Ravitch has looked hard at what several decades of this policy have “produced, her book argues those attitudes and polices have failed.

What now? Use tests for what they were intended, measures to guide policy. Stop using one or a few tests to punish teachers and kids. Principals aren’t running businesses, find and reward committed educators who aren’t moved one way or the other by the merit “carrot of a few thousand dollars one way or the other, and jettison the lawyers and CEO mentality that put admirals and widget makers into superintendent chairs’€people who have never been inside classrooms, never taught 30 or 40 kids.

Ravitch was questioned that she had gone 180 degrees, her book was a completely new tack. Not so, she replied. She had always argued schools were better if collaborative rather than competitive, that snap or uninformed judgments about what was “good teaching were wrong.

She has an important account of what went wrong with No Child Left Behind. The standards movement got captured by testing movement. Democrats signed on, because Bush was giving what appeared unprecedented amounts of money to schools to change.

What happened? no money. Or, just enough for the tests. People felt betrayed by this.

She hopes the country is coming to its senses about the value of testing. What she is doing now is returning to her original interests, the richness of the curriculum and training teachers who can make it happen. Testing has its place but if you don’t know where you are going, makes no sense. In her book, it all begins with good curriculum and practitioners who are supported who can deliver it.

Her book wants to be hopeful, we can save our schools if we get our house in order.

A huge question’€is Obama just continuing Bush education policies, how did Obama get hijacked? His Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s approach is just what Ravitch is criticizing, punishing bad teachers, so certain about what’s good and bad teaching.

Duncan completely misunderstands the motivation that moves people to teach. Ravitch goes back to basics: give teachers better materials and conditions. Don’t make teachers and parents fight over every nickel, every year.

I love her anecdote about economist John Maynard Keynes when he changed his mind, You used to say A, now you don’t say A? Well, Keynes replied, the facts have changed, what would you have me do?

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Book Review: A reminder that we can all improve http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/03/24/book-review-a-reminder-that-we-can-all-improve/ http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/03/24/book-review-a-reminder-that-we-can-all-improve/#comments Wed, 24 Mar 2010 09:09:23 +0000 David Han http://www.denebolaonline.net/?p=3901 For those of us who wish to find cures for incurable diseases, who aspire to help others in ways most cannot, who desire to dedicate their lives for the wellbeing of others, Atul Gawande’s book Better: A Surgeon’s Notes On Performance offers a glimpse of the profession of doctors, underneath the social prestige and inside the operating room.

Written with piercing reality describing the imperfect science of medicine, Better achieves a level of journalistic authenticity that struck me from the first page.

Gawande, currently a general surgeon at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, organizes the book as a series of his own experiences.

Recounting the days of his residency to more recent accounts as a general surgeon, Gawande examines what he believes to be the core aspects of success in medicine: diligence, doing right, and ingenuity.

The book begins with Gawande at the final year of his medical school.

A senior resident gives him the responsibility to look after a relatively healthy patient incase of the off chance of a fever. Gawande fulfills his duties, checking her for symptoms of fever, and finds she is well except for occasional complaints of mild insomnia.

Finding no symptoms of fever and nothing remarkably out of the ordinary, Gawande gradually begins to relax, checking her less often during the day.

Gawande learns later that, although he had been delegated the task, the senior resident had been checking on her twice as many times as he had. The senior resident, apprehensive of the patient’s complaints, checked this patient only to find her with a fever of 102 degrees. The nearly graduated med student had no idea of the incident.

Gawande had not failed in what he was assigned to do, but he nonetheless learned that treating a patient and truly caring for one were different. What was required was diligence, the strive to make less and less mistakes, which, in a profession where the slightest distraction could lead to failure, could make all the difference.

Gawande explores the ethics of medicine in the second main focus of his book, “doing right. Here, he touches upon the issue of malpractice suits, even when the doctor is not at fault.

Despite the litigations of the profession and being at a crossroads between what doctors believe is the best for the patient and what the patient believes is best, Gawande considers that doctors have the responsibility to make their best decision given the circumstance regardless of the possible consequences.

Gawande also touches upon the practices of others, of the importance of doing what is right, even when it is not popular.

Much to people’s surprise, it may save someone’s life.

In the final chapters of the book, Gawande tackles the quality ingenuity in the practice of medicine and how it allows the profession to move forward. It’s the creativity to recognize diseases and removing them before they spread. The challenge is difficult, but possible nonetheless Gawande argues through his account of observing the less preferable sanitary conditions in India.

Throughout the book, Gawande takes a humbling stance on the issues of medical practice. Gawande is unafraid to acknowledge the limitations of science in the field of medicine, which to some come as a shock since they may believe medicine to be an exact science.

Where most of the general public would expect perfection, Gawande instead reveals the inexactness. His sincerity for the science is moving, a quality that pierces through the pages of his writing.

The thought that our doctors and physicians make mistakes does leave us feeling uneasy, but these imperfections are the reason why doctors perform their best each day. What science seems to lack, human nature provides, according to Gawande.

He describes how the little things, like washing hands after seeing each patient or checking on a healthy patient for the simplest of reasons, are what save lives and drastically improve performance, not the high-tech gear or scientific advancements.

Gawande notes how since the medical profession involves lives on the line, doctors must not only think rationally, but also morally, inevitably involving ethics in their decisions. It’s an obvious thought, but I feel it often goes overlooked.

Especially today, with increased competition in the race for success, students may be focusing so much on the scientific aspect of medicine that they are forgetting the moral side to it.

Gawande is not saying that the scientific aspect of medicine is worthless, but that it is not enough.

When everything in science tells you that the patient is healthy, but something about the patient concerns you, would it not be the doctor’s responsibility to do something about it, perhaps notifying other physicians or the patient? When science says one answer but your conscious screams another, what do you do?

Doctors commonly face such dilemma. Gawande believes medical practice is not just scientific, but at times irrational, at times human.

Gawande’s book also indirectly brings up a point about today’s health care debate.

In what some historians believe has become less about providing health care to America’s people and more about party politics, Gawande reminds us of the importance of the doctor-patient relationship in medical practice.

He stresses the importance of trust between the patient and doctor relationship. The doctor can know everything about the subject, but, like was said before, there is a difference between simply treating a patient and truly caring for one.

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Salinger dies at 91, leaves a novel for the generations http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/02/10/salinger-dies-at-91-leaves-a-novel-for-the-generations/ http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/02/10/salinger-dies-at-91-leaves-a-novel-for-the-generations/#comments Wed, 10 Feb 2010 07:52:50 +0000 David Han http://www.denebolaonline.net/?p=3702 English teacher David Weintraub has never taught The Catcher in the Rye, but he remembers first reading the novel in his senior year of high school. It ruined his second semester.

Weintraub recalls alienating himself from his friends. The book had a profound impact not just on how he viewed the world, but on how he acted in it. He eventually grew out of his secluded behavior, but he can still recount the novel’s effect on him.

“Not many books do that, Weintraub said.

Literary recluse Jerome David Salinger, author of Catcher, died at the age of 91 in late January. The stories he left in novels such as The Catcher in the Rye will continue to touch readers since its publication date nearly 60 years ago.

Salinger holds a history of protecting his privacy. The author lived in isolation for over half of his life and even appealed to the Supreme Court to prevent writers from quoting his letters for a biography.

English teacher Alan Reinstein believes Salinger is as famous for being a recluse as he is for writing the book itself. Reinstein has taught The Catcher in the Rye for over 10 years, and he enjoys emphasizing the importance of relevance, how every sentence in the novel is intentional.

Reinstein feels Salinger’s death may change how readers read the novel.

“[Salinger,] as an author, is part of the story in The Catcher in the Rye, he said. “It is part of the context of reading the book.

English Department Head Brian Baron believes, however, that Salinger’s death will have little to no effect on the novel’s analysis.

“[Salinger] has been so distant from the world for so long that I don’t think his living has affected the way we taught the book, so I don’t think his death will, Baron said.

Senior Suzanne Lau is unsure whether the book’s study will change, but feels that Salinger  chose to include some of his own childhood memories in the novel as “a reminder that we all have a certain child within us.

Salinger’s passing, Lau believes, will bring many people to read his novels for the first time or to reread them.

“I know that I have a copy of Franny and Zooey somewhere, and I might just start that so I can get a feel of his writing style’€as a way to pay tribute for his death, she said.

Lau first heard of Salinger’s death in her English class. When she went home, she posted a short message of the author’s passing on her email’s status board.

“I did it out of respect so other people would know, she said. “I thought [Salinger's death] was pretty sad. I feel like I had some sort of connection.

Lau has told some of her friends who have never heard of Salinger about the author’s life accomplishments.

Lau and her classmates noted The Catcher in the Rye as one of the books that stood out in her high school career.

“It’s the type of book that you either hate or love, she said.

“Holden’s voice continues to feel contemporary for students, Reinstein said. “To know who Holden Caulfield is is to tap into a particular type of person. To me, it’s his naivety that I find so endearing.

Baron, who has read the book in high school, in college, and at South where he taught the book for five years, said that each time reading the novel affects him differently.

“When I read it as a sophomore, it felt like the truth, like someone was speaking to me in a way not spoken to me before. I didn’t know you could use words that way, he said.

“And when I started teaching it, I started to almost be offended by it because it struck me that Salinger was really arguing against maturity and adulthood. Salinger was really saying that there is no way out, that growing up is really a process of inevitably becoming phony.

“I just didn’t agree with that in part because I was an adult and I realized that I didn’t want to live a life that was inevitably false, inevitably phony.

Salinger is a tremendously gifted wordsmith, according to Baron. Baron has been checking the Internet to see if more of Salinger’s writing has been discovered and published posthumously.

Baron and Lau’s respective classes plan to re-read The Catcher in the Rye this semester.

Baron hopes his students, after three years of schooling, will encounter the same experience he has had with the book.

“I’m pretty excited about it, Lau said. “I’m not so certain that I personally understood everything as a 9th grader. That’s why I’m glad we might be revisiting it.

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Lost, but not forgotten http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/02/10/lost-but-not-forgotten/ http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/02/10/lost-but-not-forgotten/#comments Wed, 10 Feb 2010 07:52:47 +0000 Helen Holmes http://www.denebolaonline.net/?p=3704 By far, one of my most vivid memories from freshman year was the fateful day when I strolled into English class and, to my astonishment, saw an expletive scrawled in huge print across the whiteboard.

Shocked, I thought there must have been some mistake. It turned out, however, that the word written on the board was an introduction into reading one of my now-favorite books of all time, The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger.

The novel, Salinger’s magnum opus and his best-known work, describes the adventures of Holden Caulfield, one of the most famous anti-heroes in literature.

The novel has been subject to constant criticism, challenged by parents and school libraries alike, who believed the book to be inappropriate.

Salinger, who lived out of the public eye for half a century in the small town of Cornish, New Hampshire, died at the age of 91.

Salinger was considered by many to be a recluse, and indeed he has not been interviewed since 1980.

His hero in Catcher is similarly isolated; Holden, after being expelled from his latest expensive boarding school, hops a train to New York City alone. He has many compelling experiences in his three days spent on his own, from an awkward encounter with a prostitute to sexual advances from his former English teacher.

Though the novel was published in 1951, its themes of teenage angst, loneliness, and fear of the future have been, at least up until now, timeless.

With the death of its author, has one of the most revered depictions of teenage angst in literature now become obsolete?

For me, at least, the answer is no. For half a century, Catcher has been controversial in the extreme, making its way to multiple banned-book lists across the country.

In 1981, it was both the most censored book and second most taught book in American schools, though many dismissed it as containing a “self-obsessed central character, bogged down by “too much whining.

But what Catcher‘s critics fail to realize is that Salinger created not a radically different or difficult character, but a perfect and timeless representation of collective teenage uncertainty.

At some point in everyone’s life, we have all been Holden Caulfield. Everybody has felt scared or alienated or alone. At some point, we have all looked towards the future and have had no idea what to expect.

With Salinger’s passing, we are losing one of the world’s greatest and most misunderstood authors.

What is most important to realize, however, is that we have not, nor are we likely ever to lose Holden Caulfield, who is as relevant today as the day he strode, a free man, from Pencey Prep, swearing to leave the “goddamn phonies behind forever.

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Plain Doctoring: The Future of Health Care An Interview with John D. Stoeckle, MD (MGH) http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/02/10/plain-doctoring-the-future-of-health-care-an-interview-with-john-d-stoeckle-md-mgh/ http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/02/10/plain-doctoring-the-future-of-health-care-an-interview-with-john-d-stoeckle-md-mgh/#comments Wed, 10 Feb 2010 07:50:16 +0000 Denebola http://www.denebolaonline.net/?p=3706 Junior Jenny Wong, Denebola editor David Han, and former Denebola editor Nina Gold interviewed Dr. John D. Stoeckle, who was a director of The Clinics at Massachusetts General Hospital and was a professor at Harvard Medical School for many years, about the issues of primary care, its progress, and its relation to today’s health care debate.

The Stoeckle Center for Primary Care Medicine at MGH now carries on his work.

Denebola: What influences someone to practice primary care or Family Medicine?

John D. Stoeckle: Small town practice, like where I grew up, was the GP but the medical school was another kind of culture. It’s that culture that really influences the kind of medical work you will do.

[Currently] most schools have the same agenda; they want you to be scientifically knowledgeable and clinically apt in terms of the area of patients, and if you want to specialize¦ they certainly will encourage that kind of contribution [as well as going] into research.

More and more are thinking of a public health orientation, but primary care and general medicine is down on the rocks.

Denebola: Is there still interest in becoming a doctor?

JDS: Yes, I think it remains a tremendous force. It remains, for all the difficulties and contradictions, a very good job. It has public respect for the task and involves skill, responsibility, and judgment. It is a hard job but there remains an ethical sense that you are doing good, not just for yourself but for people. The idea of service remains profound.

Denebola: How will the medical training be different than yours?

JDS: It will be different, [and] the two things encompassed will be working with more people around you in the care of the patient and ¦ dealing with a patient who has more information’€whether it’s accurate or not’€coming into the medical system. You will be dealing not only with patient-doctor communication, but [also] much more patient-staff communication.

The space will also change. It will not only be smaller but also more impersonal because it’s shared. Part of the relationship was worked up in that space, whereas now many doctors will share the same room to either examine patients or discuss their situations.

Gone will be the photographs, degrees on the wall, mementos that, good or bad, were part of what younger doctors might now call “bonding.

Denebola: How will the teaching/learning process be affected?

JDS: It’s always been apprenticeship: watch me talk and watch me do. And now it has shifted with these changes and newer technologies.

Now it’s “let me watch you, then you give me your judgment and I will give you mine, and we can go from there. It’s now more interactive [and includes] participatory kinds of exchanges and more like tutorials as well as individualistic, where young doctors get their learning from their peers and patients’€as in the past’€but also shared online, from across the city or across the country.

You get feedback from one another, the group, your supervisor, someone across the world.

The old apprenticeship model will still be there and remain strong, but the learning process [will be affected by] lectures on the web, video, and audio lectures on line, simulations, other kinds of didactic learning.

Denebola: How long was the average primary care visit when you began practice in the late 1940s?

JDS: When I began, we were in the clinics here. I wasn’t in private practice. I arrived early and would see an average of eight patients from eight until 12. That became a standard time, half an hour. But if you consider the statistics, the American doctors have always seen patients for longer periods of time than European doctors, and much longer than Asian doctors.

Denebola: Mentioning other nations, are there elements from their health care systems that America should adopt in the reformed health care system?

JDS: We’ve discussed finances and ways our payment situation might be helped by looking abroad. Practice will become more collective, the idea of a solo office or an office building, the simple way of putting people together while still maintaining our fee-for-service may well give way to a more collective way not only of practice but financing practice in health centers. Even in this town, medicine remains highly privatized.

Denebola: How can we characterize support for medicine over the years?

JDS: During the 1960s and 1970s, there was considerable support for primary care, which followed from something called the Millis Report. It was given a sort of social, political, professional boost from government, foundations and the medical schools. The old idea of the GP disappeared and you had this mix of primary care, family medicine, and pediatricians blended together into a kind of movement.

What happened in the 1980s [was that] the market economy emerged in medicine changing the character of medicine because you were paid to get people out of the hospital using tests and medications, and [there was] more emphasis upon turning numbers rather than caring for individuals.

You can see this by the remark that hospitals are the most expensive “hotel in any town, and notice we do not characterize a hospital by particularities of its care but by the number of “beds or its capacity.

Denebola: How have information sources outside the hospital affected patients and doctors?

JDS: The TV ads, the journal and newspaper articles, the radio discussions about this or that illness or treatment are increasing, and increasing in detail. [While] none of this has been deeply studied¦ this information obviously affects both patients and doctors in their expectations of the experience and the distortions, errors, misunderstood information certainly makes or will make things harder in terms of treatment.

You may think you get a more informed patient, but informed about what? Younger doctors will have to be prepared to correct misinformation, but that was always the case to some extent.

The other aspect all new doctors need to consider is where they’re working, [which is] bigger organizations. You will be dealing with corporations, which means many rules and procedures, office managers, lawyers, and public relations people supervising your doctoring.

It’s like running the Pentagon, a huge task. If you think the directors themselves must have economic training, you’re not following what’s happening in our medical schools’€a number of students have that economic training, just as any number of engineers and scientists at MIT.

Denebola: If the Health Care bill is passed and millions of new patients come into our current system, what will that mean for communication and services?

JDS: America will need more providers, whether that’s nurses or doctors or those supporting them. The nursing schools are now pressing to expand their schools. The question will be how to divide that care up.

The primary care doctor will not be seeing all those patients, and it’s another example of the new teamwork’€the nurse, the doctor, so the time elements will be different, and the continuity of care elements also different.

The other issue will be the make up of this population. They are, for example, on the lower age side, so there will be much more need in the pediatric group and then you have all these Americans getting older and living longer, so they will be competing for care and services as well.

Denebola: Yet, isn’t that what the new Health Care bill is all about, more preventive medicine and more access to entry level medicine?

JDS: In terms of serving the public or serving the profession¦ the profession is faced with de-skilling the job all the time, so you have this movement, which we began at Massachusetts General Hospital in the 1960s of nurse practitioners, but now places like Columbia want to go beyond that and make the title, Dr/Nurses. So they will take over general practice organizations and there will be, perhaps, another level of a primary care doctor who manages all those different kinds of people under her or him.

So, it’s an ambivalent situation at the time for physicians and their training, and it’s hard to see how this provides the patient with the kind of care  [that] advocates of current health reform intend, or wish.

Some, like John McKinley, the sociologist, believe this goal is unreachable give[n] the contradictory forces of the drug, hospital and insurance industries, doctors, and patients, and then you have all these technological changes.

So it’s not a total experience with the doctor, but one split between many elements of care, only marginally integrated for the patient. The idea of personal care has gotten divided up because the information the patient receives now originates from so many different sources, with no guarantee any one or all of them are in direct, accurate, timely contact with the other.

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A Walk Down Sesame Street http://www.denebolaonline.net/2009/12/23/a-walk-down-sesame-street/ http://www.denebolaonline.net/2009/12/23/a-walk-down-sesame-street/#comments Wed, 23 Dec 2009 06:10:39 +0000 Joseph Scozzaro http://www.denebolaonline.net/?p=3440 Joseph Scozzaro
A Walk Down Sesame Street: A Pop-up Book
By Sesame Workshop

In our house, we love monsters. Elmo, Cookie, Abby, Zoe, and all the rest. 

Our two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Anna, has come to refer to herself in the third person just like the star of the show “Elmo’s World that she has been studying for the past year or so. 

We’ve got books of all kinds too, but some her best-loved titles all depict that happy street where monsters, big birds, and snuffles all dwell. So when Anna picked up A Walk Down Sesame Steet: A Pop-up Book, it was an instant fave. 

As I opened the book, I feared for its future. On Anna’s bookshelf, there are a few carcasses of so-called pop-up books whose contents have been torn, bitten, ripped, and stomped back into the second dimension by our untamed toddler. So when I saw her reach for the giant Elmo that springs a good three inches out of the first centerfold, I cringed for poor Elmo. 

Anna surprised me by not tearing his arms off; instead she found and pulled a tab at the edge of the page that makes Elmo’s arm wave back and forth. “Hi Melmo, she exclaimed with joy. 

As we continued to flip through this book, I was proud that this book bridled her barbaric tendencies­­–she dismembered not a single monster. As the colorful characters leaped off of each of the six large pages, she found the tab and manipulated it with just the right amount of dexterity to make the monster move appropriately. 

My favorite was the flying Grover who vaults across the sky to save a cat stuck in a tree, while hers was the gigantic Big Bird that jumps about four inches off the page holding a letter book. 

When we got to the last page with the whole menagerie of monsters rocking and waving, I thought she’d suffered a relapse as she reached for the beautiful, defenseless Muppets.

To my pleasant surprise she gently folded the book shut, said “Thank you, Papa, and gently took the new book to its place of prestige, behind the glass door of our entertainment center, for all to see and admire. 

This book tamed our little barbarian, no small accomplishment.

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The Magician’s Elephant http://www.denebolaonline.net/2009/12/23/the-magicians-elephant/ http://www.denebolaonline.net/2009/12/23/the-magicians-elephant/#comments Wed, 23 Dec 2009 06:09:06 +0000 Marcia Okun http://www.denebolaonline.net/?p=3445 Marcia Okun & Aryeh Lieberman
The Magician’s Elephant
By Katie DiCamillo
Illustrated by Yoko Tanaka

Both my 12 year old and I read DiCamillo’s latest book, a fairy tale like book about possibility and “what if? 

This book is about an Elephant that falls through the roof of an Opera House conjured by a magician. The Elephant changes the lives of many people. One of the people whose life it changes is a young ten year old boy named Peter, an orphan being raised by an old, cranky soldier who makes the boy march all day and talks about training Peter to be a soldier. 

At the beginning of the book we meet Peter as he decides to visit a fortuneteller and ask if his baby sister is alive.

Being told that his sister is alive and that an Elephant will lead him to her leads Peter to question his existence, the nature of truth, and to reflect on what he has lost’€his parents. In the end, Peter finds his sister and together they find happiness and live with Peter’s neighbors, a policeman and his wife, who are willing to ask “what if and love and cherish them.

There are several other people whose lives are changed by the arrival of the Elephant, both for better and worse.

One of those affected is the magician who conjured the Elephant.

He had not meant to conjure an Elephant; he had meant to conjure lilies. At least that is what he continually says, until he is finally implored to say what he really means. With a subtle touch DiCamillo illustrates how few people really say what they mean and, as in the case of the magician, really do mean what they do, even if they do not recognize that fact. 

Aryeh did not like the book. It did not seem focused enough, having many threads that were brought together at the end in a somewhat contrived manner. In general, it did not go into a lot of detail about anything, or went into background detail too much.

Many aspects of the book seemed two-dimensional, the characters especially seemed two- dimensional.

At the end, the conflict was resolved too easily, the main characters just took the Elephant and walked down the street to the magician, who finally realized that returning the elephant would be a greater magic than what he had already done.

While the morals of this story are solid and ones that any mother would approve, the boy, Peter, was not developed enough for Aryeh to relate to or care strongly about what would happen, partially because there were few real impediments and no real tension.

It was a story of waiting and hoping until the stars aligned, it snowed, and people decided to accept the impossible.

After all, if an Elephant can fall out of nowhere through the roof of an Opera house, what else can happen?

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Suzy Goose and the Christmas Star http://www.denebolaonline.net/2009/12/23/suzy-goose-and-the-christmas-star/ http://www.denebolaonline.net/2009/12/23/suzy-goose-and-the-christmas-star/#comments Wed, 23 Dec 2009 06:08:20 +0000 Denebola http://www.denebolaonline.net/?p=3448 Ted & Sara Dalicondro
Suzy Goose and the Christmas Star
Written and illustrated
by Petr Horacek

Children become more involved in reading when they are read to, and they are even more involved when there are more adult readers than one. So, Sara Dalicandro joined in this reading/review venture with her husband, Ted.

We read, Suzy Goose and the Christmas Star written by Petr Horacek (no illustrator listed). We read the book to the two of our children’€Olivia, age 5 and Emma, age 3.
They both were very engaged while they heard the book, and enjoyed the illustrations, which were colorful and sharply and somewhat hazily drawn.

Both children felt sorry for Suzy as she tried to reach the star in the course of the story, but always kept going “splat. Olivia especially liked how at the end of the story the star looked like it was really on top of the tree.

It was a nice solution to Suzy’s dilemma.

Emma liked it when I read the animal sounds to her. She is really into animals and what they “say, so this was a perfect addition to the book for a three-year-old.

Olivia said she liked how the Suzy’s beak and flippers were a bright, bright orange and stuck out in the middle of the snow storm, almost like that was all you could see on some pages.

For the parents, it helped that the words were large and clear, and in a font where the look of the letters are familiar with children (for example, the letter ‘Ëœa’). 

The girls’ parents had a few questions of their own.

We would be very interested to learn what other problems Suzy and her animal friends run into in future books, and how Suzy fixes them (or thinks she fixes them).

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