Category Archives: Education

Seattle Public Library Has Got Your Netflix-Style Streaming Right Here

Humphrey Bogart in African Queen
Humphrey Bogart in African Queen

I’m streaming African Queen on my iPhone for free right now, and you can, too. “I’ll perish without a hair of the dog!”

Seattle Public Library has gone, well, public with their streaming media partnership with Hoopla. The collection — of movies, TV shows, albums, and audio books — is Hoopla’s, which is why I’m watching African Queen. They have 10,000 films and TV titles, Netflix has 60,000 (counting each TV episode as title makes sense here because you have a title limit with Hoopla).

In movies, Hoopla is heavy on classics or things of a vaguely educational nature: James Franco in Howl, John Malkovich in Klimt. When you browse through, you’ll understand why some 81 percent of these titles are not found on Netflix. Music is much better, with 300,000 titles ranging from Bruno Mars and Macklemore, to Mumford & Sons and the Les Miz soundtrack — that’s just the Ms, obviously. You can also listen to the audiobook of A Confederacy of Dunces or Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.

Download the free Hoopla app for your Apple or Android device. (On the desktop, they support  Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, and Safari.) You have to sign up before you can sign in, using your Seattle Public Library card number, and registering an email address. Then you can stream or download up to 20 titles per month. You can check out a music title for one week at a time, videos, for three days (72 hours from download).

The library told MyNorthwest that they have had to try to estimate demand, since they have an overall borrowing budget themselves. (Each title borrowed costs the library about $1.70.) They’re happy with Hoopla’s pay-as-you-go scheme because they’ll only pay as borrowers actually use the service, and several patrons can watch or listen to the same title at once. It’s all configurable, so at some point they could loan out the same number of titles per month, but cut the per-patron borrowings to ten from 20 per month.

Real Talk About Rafe Esquith’s “Real Talk for Real Teachers”

Rafe Esquith will be at the Seattle Central Library (1000 Fourth Ave in downtown Seattle) on Monday evening at 7 p.m. This free event is co-presented by Elliott Bay Book Company and the Washington Center for the Book at Seattle Public Library. 

14 years ago, I was assigned to a 4th-grade public school classroom in Greenwich Village for my first student-teaching gig in the first year of my master’s degree program. My supervisor was a veteran teacher named Johanna. I will never forget her first words to me: “Welcome. You can look forward to constipation and lots of urinary tract infections.”

Real_Talk_Real_TeachersRafe Esquith’s fourth book on teaching, Real Talk for Real Teachers, isn’t quite so dark, but his forced enthusiasm barely masks the weight of 30 years spent in classrooms that are the canaries in the mine of our national class stratification.

Pitched as a book of practical tips for teachers from newbies to experienced professionals, Mr. Esquith (“Rafe” to his students) lards each of the twenty-five chapters with winsome anecdotes from his own classroom. Each of the twenty-five chapters ends with a bullet-pointed section called “For Your Consideration,” which captures the gist of the preceding pages and offers pithy advice.

The number of the times the word “I” is used in this book is indicative of the egocentric stance Mr. Esquith takes throughout, however. The author is less interested in guiding fellow professionals than he is sharing endless stories about the wonders that take place in Room 56, his “Hobart Shakespeareans” and the times he, Rafe Esquith, has helped other teachers.

Every student is “highly intelligent,” “very bright,” or “very pretty.” Every teacher is “terrific” or “the best sort of teacher” (those who aren’t he urges readers to avoid: “These teachers are of no good to you and certainly of no benefit to the students.”)  His lessons are interesting. He uses Shakespeare with 5th graders in central L.A.! So innovative! So creative! He can barely keep up with the national reporters and celebrities and what-not wanting to experience the magic of Room 56 for themselves.

And herein lies the secret truth about teachers (Shhhh….): We love attention. Cloistered in emotionally-charged, vulnerable buildings with becoming-people who hold no power in society, teachers are powerless in the world, but gods in our classrooms. And teachers have the sole right to bless or curse those with far fewer means — our students.

“Honor those heroic veteran teachers who fight on and achieve true excellence, even when our society treats them shabbily,” heroic veteran teacher Mr. Esquith writes. Needless to say, administrations are evil (They took away his keys to the building and he still hasn’t gotten them back!), testing is evil, disengaged parents are evil, Shakespeare is magical, and Mr. Esquith is a hero for enduring poverty and prejudice through it all.

I taught K-4th grades for six years before becoming one of the slacker teachers Mr. Esquith dismisses. I left the classroom eight years ago, my sense of self in shreds after one incredibly dysfunctional school administration experience. In Chapter One (“Badlands”), Mr. Esquith sadly warns, “You will pick up the newspaper and get no love from society either.” In the epilogue (“No Retreat, No Surrender!”) he picks up the theme again: “… some things do not change. We will never be given our due. It’s the sad reality all of us must come to accept.”  I now wonder if the martyr thing is given to teachers by society or if some teachers perpetuate the stereotype because it fits their own needs.

I read this book remembering how hungrily I sought advice before I started teaching. I wanted to know how I could enter this incredibly powerful role of teacher and not fail my students. I would have picked up this book hopefully — and set it down quickly. It’s like looking through someone’s vacation slides. You’re aching for practical advice that will allow you to structure your own way of doing things. And, indeed, the bullet points at the ends of the chapters are the most helpful part of the book, but even those have an aura of condescension and bitterness.

“No Retreat, No Surrender!” the subtitle cries and this battle-weary mentality infuses every page. At 316 pages, this book wanders through a veteran teacher’s war stories without much of a sense of joy or purpose.

Whether you’re preparing for your first year of teaching, or you’re a returning teacher with a few years under your belt, here’s my advice: Put your students first; communicate with everyone involved in their success; ask for help when you need it; assume that everyone has the best intentions; and trust that wine and your favorite colleagues will get you through grading periods and rough days. You’ll be fine. Leave when you are no longer able to teach joyfully or when you start to lose perspective. Do not, however, waste any of your precious free time on this book.

Gates Foundation to Chronicle of Higher Education: Our Critics are Idiots

Screenshot of Chronicle of Higher Education graphic showing Gates Foundation influence
Screenshot of Chronicle of Higher Education graphic showing Gates Foundation influence – click to view interactive version.

The Chronicle of Higher Education screwed its courage to the sticking place recently, producing a series of articles and infographics expressing mild criticism of the Gates Foundation. (This happens every so often — less mildly in global health, where global lives are on the line — and usually the Foundation makes noises about listening.)

The Gates Effect” discusses the way that the massive outflow of strategic philanthropy from the Foundation has created a monocultural discourse, where higher education is framed in engineering terms, challenges of inputs and outputs, challenges to be met with technological tools wielded of course by technocrats.

Troublingly, found the Chronicle, “off-message” perspectives were being crowded out or dismissed, thanks to the Foundation’s strategic work in communications: Cash-strapped researchers and journals can do well by generating data points on behalf of Foundation-backed initiatives, and that research tends quickly to make its way into the hands of reform-minded policy-makers. Authors Marc Parry, Kelly Field, and Beckie Supiano write:

Gates’s rise occurs as an unusual consensus has formed among the Obama White House, other private foundations, state lawmakers, and a range of policy advocates, all of whom have coalesced around the goal of graduating more students, more quickly, and at a lower cost, with little discussion of the alternatives. Gates hasn’t just jumped on the bandwagon; it has worked to build that bandwagon, in ways that are not always obvious.

Daniel Greenstein
Daniel Greenstein, Gates Foundation

As if to prove their point for them, Daniel Greenstein, the Foundation’s director of postsecondary success, decided to reply with what is, in this context, a withering put-down: “The alternative — graduating fewer students at a higher cost over a longer period of time — is not serving the needs of most students,” he told the Seattle Times by email. (It’s almost never a good sign when your correspondent in a debate recasts your position as “I’m hearing you’d like to shoot yourself, and others, in the face.”)

But note, too, how Greenstein’s response perfectly captures what people are complaining about: “little discussion of the alternatives.” In Greenstein’s formulation there is but a single alternative, crudely caricatured. This is rhetorical bullying from an Oxford PhD meant to shut down conversation — in a story about that precise dynamic: “Yet few of those critics speak out in public, and some higher-education leaders, researchers, and lobbyists were reluctant to talk on the record for this article.”

The Seattle Times, by the way, mentions that some of their recent stories on “the vexing issues of educational reform in K-12 and higher education” were funded by a grant from Solutions Journalism Network, generously supported by the Gates Foundation. Since 2009, the newspaper has printed a number of stories based on the importance of college-completion rates, a key metric for the Gates Foundation. In today’s paper, a story reports on the surprise global interest in an online course in public speaking at the University of Washington: more than 112,000 have signed up for the MOOC.

Apparently the students are supposed to post videos of their speaking performances, which emphasizes the Achilles’ heel of online education: asymmetry. At the very end of the story, the lecturer says that he likes to have students in class practice concepts as they discuss them but online “I…can’t check to make sure students are actually doing it.”

Reminder: Seattle Graduates this Weekend

This is the USA vs. Panama game at Century Link, but on Saturday it'll be all caps and gowns. (Photo: Greg Pierce Images, from our SunBreak Flickr pool)
This is the USA vs. Panama game at Century Link, but on Saturday it’ll be all caps and gowns. (Photo: Greg Pierce Images, from our SunBreak Flickr pool)

“There are no less than five college and university graduation ceremonies taking place in Seattle over the coming weekend, June 14 to 16,” says Seattle’s Department of Transportation. This will undoubtedly affect your brunch plans, should you have any. Who wants to sit next to hungover graduates and their grim-faced parents, glumly envisioning their kid moving back into the basement when they just got the treadmill-TV set up the way they like it? Speaking of brunch though, Seattle Pride Picnic is 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday at Volunteer Park.

Poster6BgBut commencements! Four are at Key Arena at Seattle Center. The University of Washington’s ceremonies will take place at CenturyLink Field on Saturday, with 30,000 expected. Traffic should be half-Seahawks-heavy the hour before 12:30 p.m. and after 4:30 p.m.

Friday, June 14

College of Built Environment Graduation: 4:30 – 6 p.m.
Exhibition Hall, Seattle Center
1,200 attending
Traffic may be heavy on streets surrounding the Center grounds.

Bellevue College Commencement: 7:30 – 10 p.m.
Key Arena, Seattle Center
4,000 attending
Expect heavy traffic on west side of center.

Saturday, June 15

University of Washington Commencement: 12:30 – 4:30 p.m.
CenturyLink Field
30,000 attending
Traffic will likely be heavy around the stadium in the hour before and after the event.

City University Graduation: 1 – 3 p.m.
Key Arena, Seattle Center
5,000 attending
Expect heavy traffic on the west side of the Center grounds.

City University Presidents Reception: 3 – 5 p.m.
Seattle Center Pavilion
600 attending
Traffic may be somewhat heavy on Broad Street.

Sunday, June 16

Seattle University Graduation: 3 -5 p.m.
Key Arena, Seattle Center
18,000 attending
Expect heavy traffic on the west side of the center grounds.

Seattle’s Meteorologist “Math Squad” Pushes for Better Math Textbooks

Cliff Mass
Cliff Mass

Mass & McDermott sounds like it could be an ABC odd-couple crime show from the ’80s — who didn’t love the hijinks of Hardcastle & McCormick? — but in fact the duo here are meteorologists pushing for better math curricula in Seattle’s public schools.

“Middle school math textbooks (Connected Math Program – CMP2) were last adopted in 2006, and elementary school books (Everyday Math – EDM) was last adopted in 2007,” argues University of Washington meteorologist Cliff Mass on his blog, “…it is time to secure new books.”

Mass’s antipathy to “discovery-based” math studies is well known– that hobbyhorse was part of what led to his parting of the ways with KUOW — but you’re probably more familiar with M.J. McDermott from TV, she’s a meteorologist at KCPQ 13. Her problems with the math curriculum come from her own exposure to it as a parent (she has twin boys), and as a volunteer algebra tutor at Ingraham High School.

In the following video, she explains why she believes “reform” math is failing students, by prioritizing a narrative approach to math understanding over proficiency in performing math operations. Now, in theory, Seattle Public Schools agrees with her on the importance of proficiency, but in practice test results, sadly, do not.

Some of the resistance to swapping out math curricula seems to be driven by the cost (and perception of waste). But the jumps in test scores from schools that have abandoned the approved math textbooks has made it hard to hold that line. As Mass explains, the district has essentially given in and is letting each school decide:

The current Seattle math curricula is so poor that several schools went “rogue” and moved to better books, at first against district wishes (it is now “legal” for local Seattle schools to change books if they can get the funds). For example,  many West Seattle schools have moved away from Everyday Math to Singapore Math and Mercer Middle School dropped CMP2 for Saxon Math.

Mass hopes that new superintendent José Banda and the school board will address the situation head on — but that said, Banda recently announced, in dealing with a separate testing controversy, that schools could opt out of a Measures of Academic Progress test in the next school year. Allowing schools to opt out of bad administrative decisions is not the same thing as good leadership, and it creates arbitrary winners and losers in what is supposed to be an equitable public education system.

Israeli Gay Youth Advocates Visit Capitol Hill’s Lambert House

(Photo: Lambert House)
(Photo: Lambert House)

The afternoon of March 13, a small group of Israelis were standing on the porch of Lambert House on Capitol Hill. One, a slightly graying, trim man, was Avner Dafni, the executive director of Israel Gay Youth. Another, smoking, also dark-haired, was Irit Zviely-Efrat, the woman who runs Hoshen, an education and outreach center of the LGBT community in Israel.

They were on a fact-sharing (as distinguished from simple fact-finding) tour of Seattle’s advocacy and service organizations, this visit to Lambert House following a lunch meeting with Seattle’s LBGT business chamber, the GSBA. They’d visited the Ingersoll Gender Center, for Trans people and the people who support them, and met with representatives from Jewish Family Services and the Jewish Federation, the Safe Schools Coalition, and Queer Youth Space. Sabina Neem from Seattle’s LGBT Commission and the City Council’s Tom Rasmussen had met up with them at the GSBA lunch.

Now they’d be talking with Ken Shulman, Lambert House’s executive director. Lambert House calls itself the “largest community center in the Northwest for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and questioning (GLBTQ) youth,” and both Dafni and Zviely-Efrat were visibly impressed at the size of the Victorian house, which comes complete with staff offices, a well-stocked library, a kitchen and dining room, a computer lab with internet access, and living rooms that contain a pool table, upright piano, and electronic keyboards. A magazine rack featured several issues of Out and The Advocate, and a Batman comic book.

Founded in 1981, it was one of the first GLBTQ centers in the U.S.; about 700 kids between 11 and 22 stop in each year, one-quarter of whom are homeless (a still-too-common side effect of coming out to parents), and for whom Lambert House is something like home, with adult volunteers to rely on and group dinners five nights a week. About 80 volunteer staff, Shulman explained, taking three-hour shifts, keep the House running. (Because they work with LGBT and homeless youth, they go through a three-month application process.)

There’s a Friday night queer film series, hiking trips, and seminars on sex, dating, and healthy relationships. Entertainment options include the Worst Case Scenario Game, Taboo, and Balderdash. On average, said Shulman, 15 to 25 kids drop in between 4 and 9:30 p.m. “It’s a big declaration to walk in the door” that first time, he said. New visitors often visibly tremble, and words spill out in a rush or not at all. Some can’t, momentarily, pronounce their own name. Newcomers get a 30-minute orientation.

Some arrive from outside of Seattle’s core, making a special trip to where they won’t be recognized. Outside of urban areas, Shulman noted, LGBT youth are often in the closet, or subject to bullying or violence. (Everyone had, by this point, congregated in a small circle in the library. It didn’t feel like pinkwashing.)

IGY_LoungeIt’s the same in Israel, Dafni and Zviely-Efrat agreed. In some areas, it can be difficult to find volunteers as well. Hozen tries to raise awareness and fight stereotypes regarding sexual orientation and gender identity in Israel, through a sort of speaker’s bureau delivering their personal stories. They’re also developing a national LGBT Civic Studies Program and working with kindergarten teachers who are unused to encountering children raised in LGBT families. Their public speakers must be at least 23 years old — able to look back on their coming out process. (Seattle has a similar program, but it’s high school kids talking to high school kids.)

Dafni’s Israel Gay Youth is more of a social network for LGBTQ young adults, with the aim that from them will come the young leaders of Israeli society. They have a small “lounge” in Tel Aviv — even that was enough to provoke attack — but they’re active across the country. They work with Tehila (the Israeli PFLAG), so that LGBTQ can have a coffee with parents, at which they can practice coming out to their real parents. As part of their Ambassador project, LGBTQ youth (with adult back-up) speak at community centers and schools, to get the kids used to public speaking. Another component is counseling kids about being inducted into military service.