Thursday, September 3, 2015

14 Weeks of Stuff in 18 Weeks

One of about twenty pins I found in an old colleague's desk drawer. Seems appropriate. And it looked dapper on the purple outfit my daughter picked out. Scroll down for that photo. 
The course I'm teaching this year is offered each semester. In the fall I teach it for eighteen weeks, then send the kids on their way. Then I get another crew of students, but with them I don't have all semester to prepare them for their big test. Instead, I get 13 or 14 weeks.

At first it seemed more pressing that I only had 13 weeks to do what I could otherwise do in 18. But now I'm coming to realize that in the fall, I have 18 weeks to do what I must otherwise do in 13. I have therefore come to the conclusion that I can . . .


It's not something one is used to in this line of work. But in some ways, I get the opportunity to leisurely start the year. I can take a week to get into a rhythm. I can shrug off a bad day or a lesson plan gone awry because I have time. And this time is with well-behaved, veteran students. Twelfth graders.

A seven-year-old photographer photographs the wardrobe she chose for her dad. It was very, very purple. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


Our third day of school took place today. It was the third day with a modified schedule so as to accommodate an assembly, today for seniors. High school teachers and students are creatures of habit (I'm not exception to this) and I'm craving a day with our conventional bell schedule. 

One of my prouder accomplishments was the creation of a grid that offers a one-shot glimpse of the bell schedules possible in our building. You'll find a copy of it below. I was gratified today when I stopped by a colleague's room and she had the schedule grid out.

One other observation from today: At the assembly for our seniors, a cloud of hazy stress descended on them when the two guidance counselors stepped up to acquaint them with some dos and don'ts about the college admissions process. I could see a wave of reality come across them as they realized that there's a lot to do in a relatively small amount of time. That wave of reality also meant it was time to more closely face the prospect that they are entering an enormously stressful gauntlet where a school will, for the first time ever, size them up and determine if they're good enough to attend.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

17 does not equal 18

Today reminded me of the phenomenal growth awaiting seniors during their 10-month campaign as 12th graders. I last taught Macroeconomics to 18-year-olds on the eve of college. They learn a lot about money, about life, about time during those ten months and one can converse with young men and women rather than big kids. But a mere ten weeks later, I find myself with newly minted 12th graders who are months away from the perspective and gravity of those more grounded students. It might take me a week or so to get away from the assumptions of what my students know and start acting on where they really are.

Monday, August 31, 2015

School Buses

My cousin took up the challenge posed by Te@chthought last year and has been blogging daily since, creating a very readable diary of her work with the students. Inspired by her example, it's time I started writing more on my craft as a teacher, which started today.

I spent quite a bit of time this summer explaining to friends a switch I made, from teaching history to teaching economics. People who grew up with me, or who knew me in college, have a bit of a hard time with that switch, given the kind of history lover that I am. Therefore, I often find myself explaining what makes teaching economics compelling. Those conversations gave shape to the lesson I did today. During a shortened block, I spent a great deal of time tasking students with explaining this riddle:

If seat belts are so safe, and if we regularly buckle up when driving or riding, why don't we equip school buses with seat belts? 

Though the riddle might seem silly, I offered it as a good metaphor for much of the thinking we'll do in AP Macroeconomics this year. If one can understand how adding seat belts might actually make buses less safe, or make them marginally safer but lead to an increase in behaviors that are unsafe, it's really just a logical jump to, say, the "crowding out effect" or the counter-intuitive logic behind why a strong dollar actually hurts U.S. consumers. The riddle worked in prompting the students to think economically.

By the way, you can read what the National Traffic Highway and Safety Administration has to say on the topic here or here

The discussion, and a recent Economist article, prompt a more thoughtful consideration of some choices we're faced with today in public education. Running buses can be an expensive proposition. Though it's a safer, more cost-effective, and more environmentally-friendly means of getting a population to school, that transportation represents a significant cost to school and, therefore, to taxpayers. Consequentially, school districts around the country are cutting the service, often by expanding the radius outside of which one must live to qualify for bus service.

As schools look to save pennies, nickels, and dimes on bus transportation they risk undermining the mission of a public school and undoing something American schools have done right. We were one of the world's first democratic republics to consecrate public schooling as a mission of the state. We worked throughout the twentieth century to expand that mission, making the school year last longer, normalizing the completion of high school, providing lunches (and then breakfasts) to students, and, of course, seeing to it that transportation to/from school would be in the schools' rather than the parents' hands. These expansions of the missions come back to one central premise of American public education: all are welcome and deserving of it.

We now look at ways to lower the price tag of this mission, which means curtailing the mission. And that means looking at ways that we risk reversing strengths that made our system stand out from those of our peer nations.

There's more to this school bus riddle than what meets the eye, which is why it's one of the better riddles I have begun a year with in Macroeconomics.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Time to Consider Some Things Seriously

Since World War II, the average expansion has lasted 52 months (the average recession 10). We're currently in an expansion that began in July 2009. That was 73 months ago. Today, the stock market sunk, largely as a reaction to the fall we've seen Asian markets taking.

A recession is coming.

So, why consider some things seriously?

In recessions, Americans look to fire the president. We did so in 1992. We did so again in 2008, though we couldn't fire George W. Bush. We did the next best thing: fire his party.

We cannot fire President Obama in 2016. But we can fire his heir.

So, can Republicans please rally around someone other than Donald Trump? Please.


On the bright side, maybe borrowing money to finish the basement renovation isn't such a bad idea. My hunch is the Fed will leave interest rates right where they are.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

__________ Creep

I'm struggling at the right word to put before Creep in this post. No, this isn't about creepy behavior, but about the way in which information and historical insight can creep. In the historical community "classification creep" refers to the system by which one-time classified files are made public, usually 25 years after the documents were deemed classified. As documents become public, the historical analysis on a given topic can change in light of the new evidence. This in part explains the cyclical nature by which a president's legacy seems to get reevaluated.

Mike Sielski wrote a column in today's Inquirer that got the part of my brain still tuned to History 300 (Methods) from college humming. Philadelphia sports fans tend to glorify Chuck Bednarik, one of the NFL's last two-way players and, even more rare, one of the Eagles' championship players. The most famous image from Concrete Charlie's career is the one atop this post, of Bednarik celebrating a fumble securing the Eagles' victory over the Giants in their 1960 season. Or, was he gloating over the player he had just injured, Frank Gifford?

Today, Sielski publishes a column in which he points to evidence (other photos taken of that sequence of events by a Sports Illustrated photographer) that Bednarik probably was exulting over an injury. That's an interpretation that is blasphemous in many Philadelphia fan circles. Why publish such a provocative opinion today?

Because the two most important figures, Bednarik and Gifford, are now dead. Bednarik took with him to his grave the story that he was simply triumphing that the game was finished. Gifford never challenged that claim. Bednarik's motives to write the history in a hue favorable to him are pretty clear. As for Gifford, how could he remember what happened that moment? Further, how could he, as an all-star and Hall of Famer in America's great gladiatorial sport, ever sound like he was crying over a physical hit.

Now that Gifford is dead, there isn't a need to politely nod one's head and let a gentleman preserve his dignity.

The photographer died in 2002: we've lost any chance to get him to reconcile the record.

So what do we call the historical creep that allows us to speak candidly about emotion-charged moments like this? I'm unsure of that. I love, though, how that event from 1960, an event which cannot happen again, can get richer and deeper as time goes on. There is no way we will know every detail with absolute certainty for important events. History remains compelling because it offers the chance to reexamine and reanalyze and, in so doing, add more past than there was in the first place.

So, I haven't posted in a while . . .

News often inspires me to post here. News hasn't given me much that's inspirational as of late. Okay, I'm in a summertime mood anyway and therefore thinking more about being a dad (you can read more here). But even if it weren't for the summertime mood, I think my general reaction to just about anything in the news can be captured in this illustration from The Little Old Man Who Could Not Read.

I love coffee. But when I want to eat, coffee just isn't enough. 

Hillary's e-mails. Don Trump. Philadelphia's inadequate preparations for the Pope's visit. The Kathleen Kane saga (wait, take that back, that's kind of fun). Chip Kelly. Chase Utley. Tom Brady. Interest rates. Chinese currency manipulation. Any of these events is just enough to make me look like the book's hungry title character or say, as only the little old man would say, "Fiddlesticks and Fishfur!"