Bullet points: High quality, somewhat under the radar coronavirus readings, including history, global, and mutual aid

Note: In 2020, I’m writing 52 blog posts, one per week, released on Mondays or so…like this one, which is out on, er, Tuesday! This is Week 14. I’m back on schedule. :)

“It is not your fault, I know, but of those who put it in your head that you are exaggerating and even this testimony may seem just an exaggeration for those who are far from the epidemic, but please, listen to us” — intensive care physician Dr. Daniele Macchini, in translation from Humanitas Gavazzeni hospital in Bergamo, Italy, Friday 6th of March 2020. (Additional attribution information.)

Same day as Dr. Daniele Macchini’s testimony from Italy, “Q: Mr. President, you were shaking a lot of hands today, taking a lot of posed pictures. Are you protecting yourself at all? How are you — how are you staying away from germs? THE PRESIDENT: Not at all. No, not at all. Not at all. […] Q: Have you considered not having campaign rallies? THE PRESIDENT: No, I haven’t. […] Q: Isn’t it a risk if there’s that many people close together? THE PRESIDENT: It doesn’t bother me at all and it doesn’t bother them at all.” Transcript provided by White House of Friday 6th of March 2020 remarks by Donald Trump after tour of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta Georgia.

A week prior at a rally, Trump said: “[T]he Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus. You know that, right? Coronavirus. They’re politicizing it. We did one of the great jobs [… The Democrats] have no clue, they don’t have any clue. […] this [disagreeing with him regarding coronavirus] is their new hoax.” Transcript of Trump rally Friday 28 February 2020 in North Charleston, South Carolina.

Analysis using the Flesch-Kincaid scale, developed in 1975 for the US Navy to assess the relative difficulty of understanding training manuals, finds US president and self-proclaimed “very stable genius” Donald Trump speaks at the reading level of a fourth grader, which explains his huge popularity among certain segments. The above image superimposes a picture of Trump yelling “Have you seen my ratings?” upon a photo taken by a nurse, showing the inside of a bodybag-laden truck at an ambulance bay outside a New York City hospital, Sunday 29 March 2020, shared with Buzzfeed by the nurse.

This post provides 10 bullet points that suggest and summarize various readings regarding the novel coronavirus pandemic, plus a bonus eleventh section at the end filled with uplifting material. I recommend further study of any or all of these linked materials, which have flown across my radar in the past few weeks. Whereas on Monday 23 March 2020 I wrote a guide for getting caught up on the pandemic if you’ve been living under a rock or enslaved (imagine someone just getting off a lengthy hiking trip in the middle of this or out of a psych ward), this entry is more a grab bag of important COVID-19 items that are a bit off the beaten track of typical US news readers. In the near future I’d like to write a guide helping US news readers develop a 60-90 minute routine for staying up to date on the pandemic daily by plugging into sources such as local and state public health officials, the World Health Organization, and a steady supply of high quality information from self-governance radicals. Hopefully soon I’ll return to writing more narrative-y blog entries, but as the globe is a bit of a bullet point place these days, I hope you find value in the below and if so, consider sharing this post, supporting me via donation, and/or replacing GovCorps around the world with prosocial ideas and actions. Without further ado:

  • A Monday 23 March 2020 article by Jim Geraghty at the (rightwing but literate) National Review titled “The Comprehensive Timeline of China’s COVID-19 Lies” documents the day-by-day, month-by-month, blow-by-blow of the Chinese government cover-up of the capability of novel coronavirus to transmit from human to human. As best understood to date, the disease jumped from animal to human in late 2019 in Wuhan, China.

  • You should know the story of Chinese doctor Li Wenliang, whistleblower in this pandemic, or “awakener” as some in China call him as a compliment. The Lancet, one of the longest running and most prestigious medical journals in the world, published an obituary (1-page PDF version) for Li Wenliang by freelance journalist Andrew Green on Tuesday 18 February 2020 (corrected Tuesday 25 February 2020). On Friday 7 February 2020, the New York Times interviewed Li days before he died. Briefly: Li worked at Wuhan Central Hospital, where in late 2019 he saw laboratory result reports, being circulated within medical circles, that led him to tell his fellow medical student classmates in a private chat group that “it has been confirmed that they are coronavirus infections, but the exact virus is being subtyped […] tell your family and loved ones to take caution.” He knew that patients were already being treated under quarantine, so he suspected human-to-human transmission was possible and urged caution, though at first he did not want his messages spread further. (Speculation: I’d guess because of the risk from various Chinese authorities, and I’d guess also because at that point Li might have wanted rock solid scientific confirmation of human-to-human transmission, before wider circulation.) The conversation among his fellow doctors was that SARS (i.e. SARS or a SARS-like disease) might come back and that they needed to be careful. Against his wishes, his messages spread more widely on social media, leading Wuhan cops to force him at their station to admit a “misdemeanor” and to promise not to commit further “unlawful acts” like this “spreading rumors.” Seven others also were arrested, but as of a Thursday 23 January 2020 article at Poynter by Cristina Tardáguila and Summer Chen, their identities and fates are unknown (will update if I hear back). Li felt wronged by the cops and as time passed, he came to appreciate, despite the punishment, the value of his warning messages having spread, telling the New York Times later that he “felt very sad seeing so many people losing their loved ones.” He returned from the police station to the Wuhan hospital and, while treating a glaucoma patient, contracted the very virus he had warned of. While he was hospitalized in an intensive care unit, Li spoke out about his experience at the police station, including releasing the document he was made to sign, telling Beijing-based media group Caixin that “I think a healthy society should not have just one voice,” and the New York Times: “If the officials had disclosed information about the epidemic earlier, I think it would have been a lot better. There should be more openness and transparency.” At the time of his death, he was survived by his four-year-old son and wife, who was five months pregnant with their second child.

    Image of Li Wenliang by Anthony Kwan for Getty Images, 2020

    Social media users in China wrote in loud favor of Li Wenliang and against the Chinese authorities, saying on Weibo that, among other things, according to the New York Times, they wrote out of shame and guilt for not standing up to an authoritarian government. Others shared variations of a quote by Chinese writer Murong Xuecun, “He who holds the firewood for the masses is the one who freezes to death in wind and snow,” which the NYT has to explain “was written as a reminder to people that it was in their interest to support those who dared to stand up to authority. Many of those people had frozen to death, figuratively speaking, as fewer people were willing to publicly support these dissenting figures.” Additional sources regarding Li Wenliang: Friday 7 February 2020 article by Zhuang Pinghui in the South China Morning Post; Friday 20 March 2020 article by Helen Davidson at the Guardian; Friday 7 February 2020 article in the New York Times.

  • And regarding the importance of whistleblowers in general, check out this February 2018 panel on whistleblowing at the Oxford Union, which included Heather Marsh, CIA senior management David Shedd, and a Guardian journalist who though employed by one of the world’s biggest newspapers did not write about the Oxford Union censorsing the panel he was on (you read that right, about whistleblowing), although I sure as hell did at Buffalo’s The Public and by contributing to BoingBoing. You can read the panel transcript by Heather who had to whistleblow her own whistleblowing panel, or listen to her 22-minute audio of it below. BTW, the Guardian journadoodle who did not mention, via his salaried job at one of the world’s most important newspapers, the Oxford censorship, then got immediately bribed/rewarded with a paid lecture series at Oxford… a paid lecture series about… yes, about whistleblowing … while I, a devout anti-careerist, essentially have lost 100% of my day job hours due to covid-19 and, while restraining myself from retweeting silly Star Trek photoshops, am writing to you on my blog right here right meow and all these other people with really cool ideas and deeds and artworks and cats are also… okay you get the point, but the tough part might be, not forgetting the point/truth and also following it to all the places where it leads.

    Transcript; Heather’s analysis of the censorship

    And regarding the Chinese and British empires, these 2012-2013 tweets from the orange menace:

    A failing state in debt to Beijing, Russia does much of China’s dirty work. May 2018 at OpenDemocracy.Net: “They put a bag on my head, cuffed my hands behind my back and tortured me with a taser”: anarchist Svyatoslav Rechkalov on torture at the hands of Russian cops. April 2018 at The Russian Reader: Stay Human, How Russia is hunting down anarchists & anti-fascists and torturing them. Coronavirus, shit is getting real.

  • On Monday 30 March 2020, Europe-based journalist Balazs Csekö tweeted the Hungarian parliament had that day passed a bill giving Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán unlimited power and proclaiming: – State of emergency without time limit – No elections – Parliament suspended – Rule by decree – Spreading fake news and rumors: up to 5 years in prison – Leaving quarantine: up to 8 years in prison. On Tuesday 7 April 2020, Andrew Stroehlein, the European media director of Human Rights Watch, tweeted “One week ago, the European Union ceased being a bloc of democracies, as Hungary’s ruler seized unlimited power in his country. Since then, the other EU member states and the European Commission have done nothing about it.” And the same day he tweeted: “There’s an outright dictatorship within the [European Union]. Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán has seized unlimited power for an indefinite period of time. That the rest of the EU doesn’t care enough to act is a threat to the very EU itself.”

  • Regarding federal legislators flying around and thus spreading the virus or exposing themselves to it, as the Wall Street Journal published an article partially about on Friday 27 March 2020, see this from Heather Marsh in 2012: “We no longer live in a world where one individual has to make a long arduous journey to appear in person to represent their town or region, we need to work to ensure there is no reason why individuals cannot represent themselves in any circumstance” and “There are two underlying concepts which must be universally accepted for representative democracy to function: groups may act as individuals and individuals may act as groups. These two ideas are fundamentally unsound.” If you want more after that, see her 2017 talk (video and transcript) “The evolution of democracy.” For those asking, due to the pandemic, what we should do regarding governance, and demanding short, more practical/pragmatic readings on the topic rather than books, I highly recommend her 2014 “Installing new governance” and you might also read her 2017 “A societal singularity.” Life’s not really about whatever stupid shit Trump said lately, or whether Nancy Pelosi is going to do this or that. Instead look at the more ludicrous things, the federal legislators jumping on planes instead of picking up phones because people are mentally enslaved by these bizarre memes about Ancient Greece city-states or whatever, or the third rail topic of voting elections integrity or even whether voting for faraway celebullies to represent you and the neighbor who completely disagrees with you, and neither of you have or ever will meet the legislator anyway, makes any lick of sense at all (see my post this year on that and Russiagate whistleblower Reality Winner), and maybe then also realize, in order to uproot all of those echoes of long ago thoughts spellbinding billions of humans for millenia, might take more than a two sentence explanation of “well what should we do instead” and you might need to read and experiment and do different things to work toward replacing entrenched broken systems (i.e., us, we all are the broken system!).

  • From the 1936 sci-fi movie Things To Come, based on HG Wells’ writings. This is a demagogue leader from the film yelling at a fourth grade reading level except for “muddle”, which is advanced vocabulary I suppose
  • The 2019-2020 novel coronavirus is deadlier than the 2002-2003 coronavirus SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), but this 2003 unclassified paper on that earlier and related virus, produced by the CIA’s Strategic Assessments Group, may still be of interest for autodidacts and others studying public health systems responding to epidemics/pandemics. The paper is subtitled Lessons From the First Epidemic of the 21st Century: A Collaborative Analysis With Outside Experts. It’s a 17-page PDF: click here for the PDF at the Homeland Security Digital Library (sponsored by US Homeland Security, FEMA, and the US military’s Naval Postgraduate School).

    The unclassified paper describes its scope as follows:

    In June 2003, the CIA’s Strategic Assessments Group (SAG) sponsored an unclassified workshop with experts from various health-related disciplines titled “SARS: Lessons Learned,” held at the National Science Foundation. The group included leading virologists, epidemiologists, public health experts from academia and government, senior officials from WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and authorities in global public health, health communications, and economics. The meeting’s objective was to extract valuable lessons learned to help prepare for future epidemics of new and reemergent infectious diseases. The group reviewed the SARS experience from its medical-scientific, public health, psychosocial and risk communications, economic, and political dimensions. This report conveys the lessons participants found most important for the containment of SARS and for dealing with future epidemics.

    Before going to other bullet points recommending other texts, I excerpt below many of the lessons noted by this 2003 report:

    * SARS has served as a sobering warning about the serious worldwide consequences that can occur at every level—public health, economic, and political—when unanticipated epidemics arise in a highly connected, fast-paced world.

    * The ability to contain the next pandemic or to achieve global eradication of SARS remains uncertain. The disease could reemerge in fall or winter or move from its animal hosts to humans again at any time.

    * Honesty and openness from governments and public health officials is especially important. Without understating the risks or dismissing people’s fears, officials with relevant expert knowledge should advise the public on what measures to follow.

    * Official announcements will need to be bolstered by ongoing public education programs to avoid panic and help motivate first responders to take reasonable risks in treating the sick.

    * [T]he panel warned that the economic impact of an epidemic involving more deaths, plant closures, and population dislocations could be more significant than the modest SARS-related losses

    * Psychological intangibles — fear, risk avoidance, and resilience — are not currently represented in economic models use[d] to gauge the impact of epidemics.

    * The panelists stressed that the US defenses against infectious disease outbreaks depended on the expertise and competence of local public health officials worldwide. [Note by Doug: last chance for smug US intelligentsia to stop rolling eyes whenever anyone brings up international law, universal human rights, the importance of global telecommunications and planetwide collaboration, etc.]

    * The effective application and efficacy of quarantine and isolation proved a pleasant surprise to the public health community. Equally unexpected was the widespread acceptance of the need for these measures by the general public, panelists observed.

    * [P]eople were more prone to comply with quarantine rules when there was no familial or financial hardship involved

    * Continued efforts by local health-care workers in a high-risk environment were facilitated when the workers were reassured their families would be cared for and when the press portrayed them to the public as heroes. Conversely, when these measures were not taken, workers were much less willing to put in the long hours and expose themselves to SARS.

    * While participants lauded the overall rapid and effective mobilization of the international public health community, they did note that [the World Health Organization] was quickly overstretched in early phases of the epidemic, despite supplemental aid by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other organizations. One participant declared that [the World Health Organization] probably could not cope with a second public health-care crisis [simultaneously] on top of SARS [i.e., SARS plus another crisis at the same time]

    * A fearful and confused public, surrounded by speculation, rumor, and exaggerated media reports can lead to genuine panic — facilitating disease transmission and hindering quarantine efforts

    * Participants cited the following reasons for lack of transparency in the case of China […] Fear of upsetting foreign investors and incurring sizable economic losses […] Cultural reticence to reveal information that could be perceived as a weakness.

    * The panelists also affirmed that the experience with SARS had enabled the Chinese Government to gain valuable crisis management experience in areas such as effective inter-governmental actions when forced to shut down parts of Beijing. They commented that with outside support, China could begin addressing some of its major public health problems such as inadequate rural health care, rapidly increasing rates of HIV infection, hazardous animal husbandry and trade practices, and live animal markets which could easily lead to another pandemic

  • 2016 opinion piece in the Washington Post by Ronald A. Klain, Ebola czar at the White House from 2014 to 2015. The title is “Zika is coming, but we’re far from ready” and here are the key passages in my opinion:

    The man who led the effort to wipe out smallpox, Larry Brilliant, often says that the seemingly complex challenge of successful epidemic control can be summarized in one phrase: “early detection, early response.” […] If it seems like the world is being threatened by new infectious diseases with increasing frequency — H1N1 in 2009-2010, MERS in 2012, Ebola in 2014, Zika in 2016, yellow fever on the horizon for 2017 — that’s because it is. These are not random lightning strikes or a string of global bad luck. This growing threat is a result of human activity: human populations encroaching on, and having greater interaction with, habitats where animals spread these viruses; humans living more densely in cities where sickness spreads rapidly; humans traveling globally with increasing reach and speed; humans changing our climate and bringing disease-spreading insects to places where they have not lived previously. From now on, dangerous epidemics are going to be a regular fact of life. We can no longer accept surprise as an excuse for a response that is slow out of the gate.

  • Improve your food storage techniques with the following resources. SaveTheFood.com, derived from Dana Gunders’ work; Seattle Public Utilities 2-page PDF guide on food storage techniques, 9-page PDF on freezer storage, and website section on reducing food waste in general; World Healthiest Foods, where you type a food item into the search box, then check out the “How to select and store” section on the resulting webpage.

  • A Wednesday 25 March 2020 article by David Kaplan at the WTAE ABC affliate in Pittsburgh reports that a public school district in the greater Pittsburgh region has been using AM radio to provide lessons to students.

    Elementary and secondary school teachers record lessons the night before and send them in. Then, 680 AM WISR in Butler broadcasts the lessons. Secondary students get their lessons at 9 a.m. and elementary students at 9:30 a.m.

    “I thought the idea was great. It kind of takes you back in a way to think about the days of fireside chats,” said Hope Hull, the principal at Connoquenessing Elementary School.

    Hull says she thinks this exercise improves listening skills for students. She added that her teachers are excited to put these lessons together.

    Somehow makes me think of this April 30, 1981 Bloom County cartoon by Berkeley Breathed (my favorite cartoonist from newspaper days).

  • The University of Michigan’s Center for the History of Medicine maintains a digital repository/encyclopedia with documents from and texts about the US flu epidemic of 1918-1919. I believe that encyclopedia was the source for some of the images in the Thursday 26 March article in the California Sun by Mike McPhate titled “Photos of the 1918 flu pandemic in California,” which begins: “We’ve been through shutdowns like this before.” Below follows some of the images McPhate’s piece republished. I’m unfortunately just going to copy his descriptions and sourcing information for each image without doublechecking them all myself as I would usually do, since by this hour I’m half falling asleep as I’m standing here typing this very sentence.

    A group in Mill Valley in November, 2018.
    Raymond Coyne/Mill Valley Public Library
    The Oakland Municipal Auditorium is being used as a temporary hospital with volunteer nurses from the American Red Cross tending the sick there during the influenza pandemic of 1918, Oakland, California, 1918. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)
    People lined up for masks in San Francisco, which made their use mandatory.
    California State Library
    Physicians vaccinated each other in San Francisco.
    California State Library
    American Red Cross volunteers prepared masks in Oakland.
    Oakland Public Library

    The University of Michigan’s Center for the History of Medicine’s digital repository/encyclopedia also has city essays that tell the stories of 50 US cities and how each responded to the 1918-1919 flu epidemic. Here’s the Dallas essay, timeline, and gallery. Here’s the Seattle essay, timeline, and gallery. As the saying goes, Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

  • This last of the ten bullet points (before the bonus eleventh), perhaps the most important, consists of mutual aid resources recently compiled/tweeted by @YourAnonCentral, whom you all should be following on Twitter. First, a five-and-a-half minute video by subMedia.tv explaining what mutual aid is:

    Required viewing

    Now, some resources. US-based COVID-19 Mutual Aid and Advocacy Resources, a shared Google Doc. Here’s how to organize a neighborhood pod, for you and your neighbors to help each other. It’s a 4-page shared Google Doc and it includes flyer templates for getting to know your neighbors, and more. This 9-page PDF is a small zine of compiled resources on safety practices for mutual aid food supply and distribution, such as safe delivery and collection protocols, quite useful if, say, you are in the habit, as I am lately in the habit, of delivering boxes containing food and supplies to the grassy outskirts of an apartment complex in view of a particular young woman standing up high on a balcony peering down and observing with untraversable and seemingly infinite physical distance your discombobulated attempts to erect the structure of a normal conversation, like a (Thomas Otway remix of a) Shakespeare scene. Here’s a United States progressive group (yes I know), The Center for Popular Democracy, gathering data for a week of action to demand coronavirus tests if you want to fill that out. Here’s a mutual aid hub map primarily for the United States, linking for instance to the North Texas Democratic Socialists of America’s COVID-19 Mutual Aid Coalition website listing resources and offering a form to fill out to request and/or volunteer help. Also check out MasksForDocs.com. They have one goal: Get personal protective equipment (not just masks, despite their name) into the hands of healthcare workers as quickly as possible. Open, healthy, inclusive, grassroots, free. They’re accepting volunteers, donations, and requests. Bellevue’s nonprofit hospital Overlake, in the Seattle metropolitan area, just received 262 face shields from MasksForDocs.

Okay, we made it! Note please that the above is a shotgun approach (when is the twitter-news not a shotgun approach?), so please read carefully, think for yourself, your mileage may vary, at least one person on those eight million shotgun approach mutual aid resources is probably going to be unfun to hang out with at best (ten-point checklist by CrimethInc for spotting snitches, infiltrators, etc.), and so on. So, the eleventh bonus bullet point is some heartwarming examples of mutual aid, big and small, mostly via @YourAnonCentral on Twitter recently, ending this post. See below, and see you next week!

https://twitter.com/BecHanley1/status/1243864095859838979
https://twitter.com/NCLMutualAid/status/1247218939853246464
https://twitter.com/leytonstone_aid/status/1245405271230500865
https://twitter.com/seattlesymphony/status/1245735238719942657

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Bullet points: High quality, somewhat under the radar coronavirus readings, including history, global, and mutual aid, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: http://www.douglaslucas.com/blog/2020/04/07/coronavirus-readings-history-global-mutualaid/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post otherwise? Please email me: dal@riseup.net.

Clinical Schoolteaching, Early Observations, Behavior Management

As you might have heard, I’m working as a clinical schoolteacher — basically, doing three months of unpaid student-teaching en route to earning my full teaching certificate — as mentioned in an earlier post. The gig’s at an elementary school in the Fort Worth Independent School District, in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood. Many of these children, for instance, go home and spend hours and hours alone while their parent(s) work multiple jobs, and the children often lack proper clothing or supplies such as glasses.

But one student still thought to get me, in addition to my coordinating teacher, a Valentine’s present:

For me! (Pic = Public Domain; attribution & linkage = nice)

My observations so far largely fit with what I’ve observed as a substitute teacher, a role in which I often substituted for an aide, and for the same teacher across several days. So, as a substitute I did watch regular teachers teach.

They’re mean to students. Often.

According to the fantastic instruction FWISD’s Substitute Academy gave me on behavior management (I call it “crowd control”) — and this jives with my personal experience — administering sarcasm destroys your credibility and your relationships with students more than anything else. Sarcasm’s really nothing more than a way for teachers to vent their frustration and scare students — a losing strategy, in the long run, since students lose much of their respect for downright mean teachers and don’t learn as well. There’s no need to be a Tiger Mother.

For example, teachers will yell at students for not following worksheet directions, when it’s clear the students often don’t understand the directions because, say, they can’t read them without glasses, or they’re interpreting the unfamiliar words in a novel way, or the terrible textbooks’ directions are ambiguous in the first place. And this anger when they come to the teachers asking for help with the directions!

Of course, in disciplining children, there’s no reason to coddle and give ribbons for every good deed, either. But there’s nothing wrong with treating children with kindness, telling them thank you, praising them for succeeding at what is actually difficult for them — following directions, focusing, getting an answer correct, and so on. Telling a student “Good” never killed anyone, and an encouraging, welcoming classroom community helps students learn; yet, so often I hear teachers mock students and then support their offensive behavior with a chest-pounding, macho, “toughness” credo. Yeah right. Maybe you’re just a jerk, or maybe you just don’t know what you’re doing.

Way over on the other hand, though, it sure is easy for me to spend a week or two in a new community — the school — and pass judgment, especially when I’m not under the strain regular teachers are. (Teaching to the high-stakes tests, for instance.) Kind of like committing a cross-cultural drive-by. And, I don’t want these schoolteaching blog posts to turn into passive-aggressive attacks on my co-workers, you know? But I’m calling it as I see it, and when the time seems appropriate, I’ll mention my concerns to my superiors. I do defer to their chain of command, perhaps too frequently; but, when you’re the low man on the totem pole, brazenly passing judgment isn’t always the best thing to do — especially when my superiors have years of experience that might inform their actions in ways I don’t understand yet.

Of course I don’t really believe any of that… Though I do believe this: in assessing the public school system, you can’t point fingers at any one problem (especially just because it might be politically popular to rag on that problem). The errors are system-wide; everything from underfed, hungry students to funding problems to malevolent teachers to absent parents to … You can’t single out any one thing, and you can’t ignore the good work that’s being done, either.

But I’m furious at the way teachers write off students’ misbehavior (or just problematic behavior) as due to some sort of intrinsic “badness” of the children that the teachers act like they’re incapable of addressing. I’m not really furious at the teachers, but at a culture-wide reluctance to adopt a philosophy such as Pragmatism, where one doesn’t opine about metaphysical ethical essences, but just takes the most practical assumption. Assuming at-risk students are intrinsically bad might be practical if you don’t want to stick your neck out, or if you don’t want to make the extra effort, but it’s not practical if you want to help people. And children are people. After all, adults are often just as immature as they are.

And what about gathering the courage to ditch the paint-by-numbers worksheets and make your own material, material that’d be relevant to the students and help them understand and care about their work? In class we read this long story about settlers’ candle-making. These children have no idea what the “mold” is that settlers used to create candles. There were too many paragraphs for the story also. Why not write two or three paragraphs about the snow days, answering some questions you overheard the students ask about the weather? When it’s not busywork, and when the material is relevant to the students’ lives, discipline problems often disappear.

21st Century Schoolteaching (via Our Man in Tirana)

As to that student who needs glasses (see earlier post). Some questioning, and my own experience, indicates the delay in getting glasses to students is a persistent and district-wide problem. If my questioning about the glasses supply chain turned up correct answers, a corporation called Essilor is the contractor responsible for getting glasses to students, as the students are entitled to receive under various federal legislation (if I recall correctly). The contractor apparently operates under a (state? federal?) grant, which means they have an obligation to do their work (i.e. it’s not charity), and that grant might specify a timeline for delivering the glasses. Also, the grant should be publicly available; via Twitter or email, I’ll ask organizations such as ProPublica how to track down the grants, and if I have to, I’ll file an entire FOIA.

Don’t mess with my students.

Clinical Teaching Day 1; Rumination on Roles

My first day as a clinical teacher went very well. Except: I’m exhausted!

Right now the coordinating teacher and I are together in the same classroom throughout the day. She’s running the reins, and I’m just observing, sitting at the side. Eventually I’ll be able to lead some activities. I’ve done that before when I’ve substituted for the same groups of students across a continuous week or so, but this would be more serious, especially as it’s long-term.

The day began quite early; my alarms blasted off at about 4:30am. I showered & got ready, and Wifely Kate cooked breakfast:

iPhone pic by me, public domain for you. Food by Kate!

How awesome is that? The coffee was ready and everything. I was able to write fiction for about an hour and fifteen minutes — quickly revising (line-editing) an older, completed story so I can re-submit it; didn’t quite finish, since I’m having to fact-check some details — and then I headed to campus, the lunch Kate packed me in tow. At noon-ish I discovered she’d left a note in my lunchbox. The note talked about how proud she is of me. I got teary-eyed!

The coordinating teacher uses a Promothean ActivBoard (I’m not sure if the link points to the exact same model) in some very effective ways. For one portion of the classes, she shows multiple-choice math questions on the ‘Board, then the students record their answers using controllers — all students have one on their desks. The coordinating teacher shows the results on the ‘Board — as a bar graph; looks like something off Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? — and uses them not just to motivate the class (the students love the video game-y vibe), but also to hone in on the students’ misunderstandings of the material in order to explain it again. Good real-time assessment.

Weirdly, one of the few TV shows I really like

The ‘Board can even export the collected data, so at a later time, we can analyze the answer statistics more precisely to spot recurring troubles. Totally something out of a Tim O’Reilly project.

Since I was mostly only observing — catching up to speed on this campus’s schedule, rules, etc. — I focused on watching one student at a time. (I’ve blogged before about developing observation skills. As for characterization, can a writer quickly notice in real-life what makes another person absolutely unique?) I noticed a boy whom I think might need glasses. Squinting, tilting his head to see better, putting his face inches from his paper. There’s a school program to address vision issues, but I’m not sure how prompt it is. Watching how in need and at risk students are can be upsetting. I’ve seen it before, substituting.

This particular student is enthusiastic, often raising and waving his hand even before the teacher asks another question. His enthusiasm hasn’t been disruptive. He seems to be a bit in his own world — smiling to himself, thinking his own thoughts. Good kid.

After leaving the campus, I went to Stay Wired! Coffeehouse and Computer Service for two hours, where I’m helping out as a computer tech. After my two hours were up, I informally sat in on a meeting for Democrat Cathy Hirt‘s campaign for the Fort Worth mayor position. There, upon being asked, I talked a little about my experiences and observations working for the local public school system.

I have to confess I’m bewildered about the relationships between my roles as a writer, teacher, newbie activist, blogger, and tweep (Twitter person). For example, working as an activist differs from volunteering for a political campaign (as I did for Bill White), from working for one in an official capacity, from blogging reportage or opinion about it, from incorporating observations of a campaign into a fiction project, etc. It’s a bit unnerving when you’re sitting there with a few people talking local politics and you’re trying to figure out which hat you’re wearing, so to speak. I have no real idea how to resolve these mini-conflicts, and there’s no one right answer.

The convention for blogs to be frequently updated conflicts with my personal preference for long-form or at least mucho-revised writing; and, when I’ve tried to blog long-form writing in the past, it’s often come off as too complex (Latinate, twisted syntax…) and hasn’t been revised well enough — a bad compromise between careful long-form writing and a quick blog post. Really, if you’re blogging long-form pieces, you’re essentially writing e-books. Since I consider myself a non-commercial writer (i.e. my goal isn’t profit; that possibility is a fringe benefit; I don’t mean that I consider myself highbrow — I try not to think in those terms), I’m not against the idea of eventually releasing more of my creative writing (fiction and otherwise) under Creative Commons licenses, but I sense that right now, I still need the bigger bullhorns and reputation-build of established venues (i.e. magazines, publishing houses).

Vika covers Metallica’s Orion

The increasing online success of vkgoeswild (Vika Yermolyeva) has been a bit of an eye-opener for me. I thought she was cool before she joined forces with Dresden Dolls drummer Brian Viglione (Hipster cultural capital snobby-stupid FTW! =p). Vika supports herself by receiving online tips and selling customized transcriptions online. Other artists and bloggers have figured out similar business models (search through Boing Boing for many examples and discussions). But for creative writing, I just don’t excel at the very short, very quickly written form, which seems to be necessary to any feasible online business model I can actually think up for right now.

Besides, I love teaching!

Clinical Schoolteaching Begins: Scared but Eager

Tomorrow I begin a 12-week placement as a clinical teacher within the Fort Worth ISD en route to earning a full-meal-deal schoolteaching certificate. Tonight I’m quite a bit nervous.

Public domain pic thanks to Amada44

The campus is an elementary school. I’ve substituted a fair number of times in the middle and high school grades, as well as in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. I love kids and I love teaching. It requires patience, empathy, honesty, effective communication, a strict but fair approach, courage, an understanding of how people (young folk are people, too) need structure, a knack for facilitating group activity, good documentation skills, the ability to coordinate with coworkers…

So I’m confident in my abilities and experience. The anxiety comes from other causes. I’m not at all the best when it comes to crossing t’s and dotting i’s when time is of the essence, and that’s a necessary part of most work. I still don’t have many of the nitty-gritty details figured out (where do I park?), but I’ve always been able to improvise as a substitute. “Bring it on!” is my basic attitude, but everyone, including me, gets scared.

Wifely Kate has been so supportive and generous with her help. This weekend we did a lot of prep stuff, such as buying me more button-down dress shirts, cutting my hair (I still have a big ol’ shock of cowlick-y hair, which seems to be undefeatable). Marrying her has been the best thing that ever happened to me. And not just because she’s cooking breakfast and packing my lunch in the early, early morning as I get my creative writing in before driving to campus.

Schoolteaching is also scary because of possible political and work-world implications of online activity, online personal opinions. Working — at least as a substitute — has made me an official public servant. And there’s a lot of controversy over schoolteaching — for example, the Texas textbook controversy. What if something I tweet — such as this in favor of journalist Glenn Greenwald — bothers a parent or a supervisor? Oh well! I don’t really know how to handle that other than how I handle personal interaction in general, which is to try to be honest, fair, and diplomatic. I’m not one to stay quiet and keep my head down.

I’m ready. Again: Bring it on.

I need to make public something else soon, too, but I’ll leave that as a cliffhanger due to time constraints: I gotta get some sleep!