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Archive for August, 2014

Opting Out of Testing! No Way!

I am absolutely elated with the Lee County School Board decision to opt out of “all state mandated tests effective immediately.” After all, I live and teach here. Lee County is the first district in Florida to opt out of state mandated testing. It is also the 38th largest school district in the country. As Lee County goes, so goes the country…
…well, let’s not get too carried away.
The consequent political turnoil is not lost in the euphoria. We should have no delusions that this battle is over. Indeed, it has just begun. This decision has left Lee County vulnerable to significant state level consequences, as graduation requirements, bonus pay, school and teacher evaluations and the distribution of state funds is all tied in with test scores. So I’m seeing quite a few parents and district administrators running around like chickens with their heads cut off. What do we do without tests? The Lee County School Superintendant Nancy Graham, a very capable administrator in my opinion, sent us a video message in which she told us that we should “breathe.” Everything will be all right. We’ll get through this. It’s funny and a little sad that our leadership is treating this as some kind of crisis. It is the opposite of a crisis.
That being said, decisions will have to be made at the state level, and we will require a great deal of support and activism to ensure that these decisions support and reinforce this opt out rather than over-ride it. We need to call our representatives in Tallahassee, as well as the bureaucrats at DOE to protect this important first step.
This is not a crisis no matter what the chicken littles say. The sky is not falling. In fact the clouds are finally lifting. There’s a great deal of hand wringing. Some people are saying “there was no plan.” “No backup.” “What about our funding?” “What about students retaking tests in October?” “What about seniors who are supposed to be graduating this year.” Those of us in support of the opt out have to provide some answers, however speculative, for these very real worries.
First, who cares if there was a plan. If we waited until there was plan we would be waiting forever. Lee County’s opt out forces the state and the district to come up with a plan. That’s activism. Reversing stupid policies is never convenient. But it is always necessary.
Here’s a few suggestions. Students taking retakes, no longer have to take the retakes. Problem solved.
Seniors who are supposed to graduate? If they pass their classes, they graduate. Problem solved.
What about funding? What about funding. Our politicians have demonstrated that they will play politics with our funding anyway. So what else is new. We’ll deal with it like we always do? Problem solved?
How will teachers be evaluated if not with tests? Admininstrators can walk into their rooms and watch them teach. Problem solved.
How will we assess student progress? Teachers can do that. Imagine that. Leaving assessment in the hands of professionals trained to assess. What a concept. There are hundreds of instruments teachers can use to establish baseline and progress. This is something that our standardized testing regimen didn’t really do in any meaningful way? Problem solved.
How do we know if our schools are working? The NAEP already assesses the reading and math trends using reliable random sampling that is much less painful, as well as cheaper than the publisher boondoggles that are standardized tests. We’ve had this instrument since the seventies. In fact, NAEP research reveals that the testing regimen that has been in place since No Child Left Behind has had almost no positive impact on learning at all. Problem solved?
In sociology I always tell my students to be wary of simple solutions. But in this case, the solutions are not all that complicated. However, they will require legislation. That’s where it becomes complicated. Has there ever been a simple issue that the politicians could screw up. I can almost feel the publishing lobbyists on their phones right now. This battle isn’t over, and we are on the state’s field. We better be ready to fight.
One thing we have going for us is that it is an election year. And Governor Skellitor Scott is trying to make nice with teachers because…well…he suspects that we are aware of his deep seeded hatred for us. So there is room to movement on this.
It seems there are those who are trying to build this great decision as a crisis. Perhaps, for them, it is. But for teachers, parents and students, it’s not. At least it doesn’t have to be. Any crisis that happens as a result of this decision will, like the idiotic policy itself, be wholly created by politicians and bureaucrats.

A Final Solution for Palestinians? Really?

You can’t advocate for genocide and then hope we will all forget about it!

When I read Juan Cole’s essay in Truthdig titled, Are Israelis and Zionists Really Talking About a Final Solution of the Palestinian Problem I was expecting to see the predictable rhetoric accompanying both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian debate. Right in the title of the piece is the broad generalizations that are typical of a piece of propaganda, “Are Israelis and Zionists…” as if what Cole was about to reveal were true for all Israelis and Zionists. This is always a stretch, one we all make when writing on these issues, but one we should all be wary of when reading on the topic.

The column cited by Cole was ran in the Times of Israel yesterday, but was removed for obvious reasons. I was floored by what I read. The author, Yochanan Gordon, clearly advocates genocide. His title is not a question; it is a statement of fact. In this current conflict with Hamas led Gaza, “What other way then is there to deal with an enemy of this nature other than obliterate them completely?” He’s clearly not just referring to Hamas, but rather Gaza’s population in its entirely. According to Gordon “…anyone who lives with rocket launchers installed or terror tunnels burrowed in or around the vicinity of their home cannot be considered an innocent civilian.” In case there is room for doubt, Gordon goes on to say that the normal rules of warfare, by inference those that require protection for civilians, should be suspended. He summarizes his case in the final sentence, “If political leaders and military experts determine that the only way to achieve its goal of sustaining quiet is through genocide is it then permissible to achieve those responsible goals?”

Of course, the reasonable answer to this interrogatory concluding sentence is…um…no. Of course political and military experts, such as those who orchestrated the Final Solution in Germany (and I don’t make references to Nazis recklessly) have absolutely no expertise that legitimizes genocide under any circumstances. As Cole points out, though Hamas may have chartered the destruction of Israel, it is unlikely that all Palestinians feel this way. To be fair, it remains a stretch to suggest that all “Israelis and Zionists” are “talking about a Final Solution.” But this one, Yochanan Gordan, certainly is, and he needs to be called out on it.

Kudos to Juan Cole for preserving this little snippet of human ugliness for public debate. So here is the genesis of this post. When I read Gordon’s column and discovered that it had been taken down I felt that this despicable piece should not be hidden from public scrutiny. Credit should be given to the Times of Israel for taking the offending piece down. According to their explanation, it is their policy to provide an open forum for their bloggers, but in this case, the work was so “damnable and ignorant” that the editorial staff removed it. Laudable, but I believe that such damnable and ignorant work should not simply be flushed down the memory hole regardless of the editorial decisions of the publication. Let’s, in fairness, separate Gordon’s ugly opinions from the editorial mission of the Times of Israel, but let’s not allow his work to disappear. It’s only in the open marketplace of ideas that we can adequately contend with ignorance such as that displayed by Yuchanan Gordon. Toward that end, I accessed the cached link provided and attempted to share the post on my personal Facebook and on my Journal of a Mad Sociologist Facebook group. The link would not post. To be fair, I’m not computer savvy enough to know if this is due to a glitch in my system, though I’ve never had a problem posting links before, an inconsistency between my system and the cached link, or a conscious decision on the part of the host to keep this column from being shared. Regardless, because I fear the loss of this document to public scrutiny, I cut and pasted the article in its entirety below. I’ve added the bold face, italics and underline.

When Genocide is Permissible

By Yochanan Gordon

Published in The Times of Israel, Friday, August 1, 2014

Judging by the numbers of casualties on both sides in this almost one-month old war one would be led to the conclusion that Israel has resorted to disproportionate means in fighting a far less- capable enemy. That is as far as what meets the eye. But, it’s now obvious that the US and the UN are completely out of touch with the nature of this foe and are therefore not qualified to dictate or enforce the rules of this war – because when it comes to terror there is much more than meets the eye.

I wasn’t aware of this, but it seems that the nature of warfare has undergone a major shift over the years. Where wars were usually waged to defeat the opposing side, today it seems – and judging by the number of foul calls it would indicate – that today’s wars are fought to a draw. I mean, whoever heard of a timeout in war? An NBA Basketball game allows six timeouts for each team during the course of a game, but last I checked this is a war! We are at war with an enemy whose charter calls for the annihilation of our people. Nothing, then, can be considered disproportionate when we are fighting for our very right to live.

The sad reality is that Israel gets it, but its hands are being tied by world leaders who over the past six years have insisted they are such good friends with the Jewish state, that they know more regarding its interests than even they do. But there’s going to have to come a time where Israel feels threatened enough where it has no other choice but to defy international warnings – because this is life or death.

Most of the reports coming from Gazan officials and leaders since the start of this operation have been either largely exaggerated or patently false. The truth is, it’s not their fault, falsehood and deceit is part of the very fabric of who they are and that will never change. Still however, despite their propensity to lie, when your enemy tells you that they are bent on your destruction you believe them. Similarly, when Khaled Meshal declares that no physical damage to Gaza will dampen their morale or weaken their resolve – they have to be believed. Our sage Gedalia the son of Achikam was given intelligence that Yishmael Ben Nesanyah was plotting to kill him. However, in his piety or rather naiveté Gedalia dismissed the report as a random act of gossip and paid no attention to it. To this day, the day following Rosh Hashana is commemorated as a fast day in the memory of Gedalia who was killed in cold blood on the second day of Rosh Hashana during the meal. They say the definition of insanity is repeating the same mistakes over and over. History is there to teach us lessons and the lesson here is that when your enemy swears to destroy you – you take him seriously.

Hamas has stated forthrightly that it idealizes death as much as Israel celebrates life. What other way then is there to deal with an enemy of this nature other than obliterate them completely?

News anchors such as those from CNN, BBC and Al-Jazeera have not missed an opportunity to point out the majority of innocent civilians who have lost their lives as a result of this war. But anyone who lives with rocket launchers installed or terror tunnels burrowed in or around the vicinity of their home cannot be considered an innocent civilian. If you’ll counter, that Hamas has been seen abusing civilians who have attempted to leave their homes in response to Israeli warnings to leave – well then, your beginning to come to terms with the nature of this enemy which should automatically cause the rules of standard warfare to be suspended.

Everyone agrees that Israel has the right to defend itself as well as the right to exercise that right. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has declared it, Obama and Kerry have clearly stated that no one could be expected to sit idle as thousands of rockets rain down on the heads of its citizens, placing them in clear and present danger. It seems then that the only point of contention is regarding the measure of punishment meted out in this situation.

I will conclude with a question for all the humanitarians out there. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clearly stated at the outset of this incursion that his objective is to restore a sustainable quiet for the citizens of Israel. We have already established that it is the responsibility of every government to ensure the safety and security of its people. If political leaders and military experts determine that the only way to achieve its goal of sustaining quiet is through genocide
is it then permissible to achieve those responsible goals?


To be fair, I also wanted to include the Times of Israel’s explanation for removing the post:

Times of Israel Takes Down the Post

The Times of Israel on Friday removed an unacceptable blog post, entitled “When genocide is permissible.”

This blog post, which was described by our Ops & Blogs editor as both damnable and ignorant, blatantly breached The Times of Israel’s editorial guidelines.

We have discontinued the writer’s blog.

The Times of Israel maintains an open blog platform: Once we have accepted bloggers, we allow them to post their own items. This trust has rarely been abused. We are angry and appalled that it was in this case, and will take steps to prevent a recurrence.

We will not countenance blog posts that incite to violence or criminal acts.

Indeed. Whereas I understand and agree with the editorial decision of the Times, removing Gordon’s content does not adequately allow us to contend with his ideas. Gordon is motivated by hate. He is certainly not alone. Hate cannot be covered up by closing our eyes to it. This was true in 1930’s Germany, and it is true now.

It is also fair to include Gordon’s later apology for his piece.

Gordon’s Apology

Well stated final sentence, and thanks for the apology, but Mr. Gordon, you will have to own your words. You cannot claim that you “never intended to call to harm any people” when you clearly defined those people as being by their very nature liars and deceivers and thus justifying their obliteration. This is as much a contradiction as distinguishing Israelis as “celebrating life” while calling for the deaths of 1.4 million people. You cannot advocate for genocide and then step back and say, “my bad.”