Education is Not a Business – It’s a Mission!!!

Dear Commons Community,

The current edition of the NEA Higher Education Advocate has a salute to the Professors of the Year.  One of the honorees is Professor Pam Whitman, who teaches women’s perspectives, English and equine science at Rochester Community and Technical College in Minnesota.  When asked about her award, she commented:

“Education is not a business.  It’s a mission…Education is how we change the world, one person at a time.  Education is how we pull people out of poverty.  It is how we right the race, gender, and class imbalances in our society.”

Those of us in education who keep seeing attempts to usurp our profession by elements of corporate America, private foundations, and media outlets should use Professor Whitman’s comments as a rallying cry.

Well-deserved honor!



Joe Scarborough: Conservatives “Disgusting” and “Fools” for How They are Treating the Trayvon Martin Tragedy!

Dear Commons Community,

Joe Scarborough, MSNBC ‘s Morning Joe  anchor and a Republican, calls conservatives and the far right “disgusting” and “fools” for politicizing the Trayvon Martin tragedy.

“On Friday, he excoriated some conservative websites for defending Zimmerman and questioning Martin’s innocence. He said that he found their behavior “disgusting.”

“Why is it that some on the right are actually taking this up as a cause?” Scarborough asked. “As National Review said almost immediately after it happened, this has nothing to do with gun rights, this has nothing to do with the Second Amendment, this has nothing to do with stand your ground laws, this has nothing to do with the NRA. This has everything to do with a guy that’s trying to play security cop, who is unhinged, who chased down and shot a 17-year-old kid armed with Skittles and iced tea.'”

Scarborough warned that conservative sites should follow the National Review and “not take this up as a cause.” He took issue with their portrayal of Martin in particular.

He said, “some racist websites, but also sadly some fairly mainstream websites are actually going into Trayvon Martin’s social media pages, be it Twitter or MySpace, and they’re trying to find ominous looking pictures while skipping over pictures of him holding up a birthday cake smiling, him fishing with his dad, him standing outside proudly of his home dressed in a tux ready to go to prom.”

“This is beneath contempt,” Scarborough railed. “These people on the far right are being fools to try to make this a political issue.”

Right on Joe –  “disgusting” and “fools” are exactly what the far right has become in this country.



Recall Vote Ordered for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker!

Dear Commons Community,

The Huffington Post is reporting that a recall election was officially ordered today against  first-term Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker after more than 900,000 signatures were collected on petitions.

The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board voted 5-0 to order the recall, a move that has been expected for weeks given the high number of signatures gathered between November and January. It took 540,208 signatures to trigger a recall.

Assuming a Democratic primary is necessary, it will be May 8. The actual recall vote then will be June 5. Three Democrats already have announced they are running and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, whom Walker defeated in 2010, has said he would announce his intentions before Tuesday.

There have been only two successful gubernatorial recalls in U.S. history, against California Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 and North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier in 1921.

Walker was targeted for recall after he pushed through a law last year that effectively ended collective bargaining rights for most state workers. It also forced the workers to contribute more to their pension and health care costs, which amounted to a cut in pay.

Protests raged for weeks and grew as large as 100,000 people. But Walker and Republicans who controlled the Legislature never wavered and they passed the law even though all 14 Senate Democrats fled to Illinois in a failed attempt to block it.

If Walker loses his governorship as a result of the recall election, it would be huge victory for American labor.


The Milky Way: New Photographs!!

Dear Commons Community,

More than a billion stars blaze bright in a new photo of our Milky Way galaxy snapped by an international team of astronomers.

The new picture, which was released on Thursday combines infrared images of the Milky Way taken during sky surveys by two different instruments, the UK Infrared Telescope in Hawaii and the VISTA telescope in Chile. The photo is part of a 10-year project that is gathering mountains of data to help guide future research, scientists said.

This incredible image gives us a new perspective of our galaxy, and illustrates the far-reaching discoveries we can make from large sky surveys,” Nick Cross, of the University of Edinburgh, said in a statement. “Having data processed, archived and published by dedicated teams leaves other scientists free to concentrate on using the data, and is a very cost-effective way to do astronomy.”

For more images and narration on the Milky Way, see the video below.



Frank Rich: The Republican Party’s Problem with Women!

Dear Commons Community,

Frank Rich has an article in this week’s edition of New York Magazine on the Republican Party’s problem with attracting the women’s vote in the upcoming election.  Abortion, contraception, and sexual harassment are touched upon as issues which the Party has not been particularly pro-women.  To the contrary, he comments:

“It’s not news that the GOP is the anti-abortion party, that it panders to the religious right, and that it’s particularly dependent on white men with less education and less income—a displaced demographic that has been as threatened by the rise of the empowered modern woman as it has been by the cosmopolitan multiracial male elites symbolized by Barack Obama.”

He also reviews some history and points to prominent Republicans (Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush) who were fairly supportive of women issues including abortion and contraception.

His most provocative comments were reserved for Rush Limbaugh who awakened the women’s issue with his attack on Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown student to whom he referred as a “slut”:

“GOP apologists like Peggy Noonan are hoping now that Limbaugh and Limbaugh alone will remain the issue—a useful big fat idiot whom Republicans can scapegoat for all the right’s misogynistic sins and use as a club to smack down piggish liberal media stars.”

I don’t think so.  The Republican Party because of its affiliations with the religious right will have a problem with the women’s vote this November. Rich provides good insight into the issue.


The Era of Big Data – New Federal Research Initiative!!

Dear Commons Community,

The federal government is beginning a major research initiative in big data computing. The effort, which will be announced today, involves several government agencies and departments, and commitments for the programs total $200 million. The New York Times is reporting:

“Administration officials compare the initiative to past government research support for high-speed networking and supercomputing centers, which have had an impact in areas like climate science and Web browsing software.

“This is that level of importance,” said Tom Kalil, deputy director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “The future of computing is not just big iron. It’s big data.”

Big data refers to the rising flood of digital data from many sources, including the Web, biological and industrial sensors, video, e-mail and social network communications. The emerging opportunity arises from combining these diverse data sources with improving computing tools to pinpoint profit-making opportunities, make scientific discoveries and predict crime waves, for example.

“Data, in my view, is a transformative new currency for science, engineering, education, commerce and government,” said Farnam Jahanian, head of the National Science Foundation’s computer and information science and engineering directorate. “Foundational research in data management and data analytics promise breakthrough discoveries and innovations across all disciplines.”

On Thursday, the National Science Foundation will announce a joint program with the National Institutes of Health seeking new techniques and technologies for data management, data analysis and machine learning”

At the CUNY Graduate Center, the possibilities of doing research on “big data” was discussed this past summer.  And Paul Attewell and Bob Haralick have been conducting an exploratory seminar on the topic this semester.



The Right to Sell Kids Junk!

Dear Commons Community,

Mark Bittman, an opinion columnist and the Times magazine’s food columnist; has an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times, blasting the way corporations use advertising “brainwash” on our children to buy a lot of “junk” especially “junk food”.   Reminding us that 17 percent of young people are obese, he takes aim as follows:

“It’s been reported that kids see an average of 5,500 food ads on television every year (sounds low, when you think about it), nearly all peddling junk. (They may also see Apple commercials, but not of the fruit kind.) Worse are the online “advergames” that distract kids with entertainment while immersing them in a product-driven environment. (For example: create your own Froot Loops adventure!)

And beyond worse: collecting private data, presumably in order to target children with personalized junk food promotions, as in this Capri Sun advergame, which asks for permission to use your webcam to film you — without first verifying your age.”

Bittman traces the legal history of how we got to this point by referring to an article by Samantha Graff, Dale Kunkel and Seth E. Mermin, that appeared in the journal Health Affairs:

“advertising was only granted First Amendment protection in the 1970s, when a series of decisions established that commercial speech deserves a measure of protection because it provides valuable information to the consumer, like the price and characteristics of a product.

“When the court extended the First Amendment to commercial speech [in 2009].. it focused on how consumers benefit from unfettered access to information about products in the marketplace. But this notion has been twisted to advance the ‘rights’ of corporations to express their ‘viewpoints’ in the public debate — not only about their favored political candidates, but also about the wares they are hawking.”

What in heaven’s name are we doing to our children?  For too many of them, it is eating unhealthy, being bombarded by electronic anything, and test, test, test.



University of Texas Student Newspaper Makes Fun at the Death of Trayvon Martin!!

Dear Commons Community,

The Hufffington Post is reporting that The Daily Texan, a student newspaper at the University of Texas in Austin, pulled a controversial cartoon about the media coverage of the Trayvon Martin case on Tuesday.

The cartoon critiques the media coverage of Martin’s death, which has become a national episode. A woman reading to a child from a book labeled “Trayvon Martin and the Case of Yellow Journalism” says in a speech bubble “And then, the BIG BAD WHITE man killed the handsome, sweet, innocent colored boy.” It ran in the March 27, 2012 edition of the DT.

The cartoon was done by Stephanie Eisner. Gawker noted the student paper pulled the cartoon from their website on Tuesday afternoon.



Class Size Increasing in New York City Public Schools!

Dear Commons Community,

The number of elementary school students in classes of 30 or more has tripled in the last three years because of teacher attrition and budget cuts to public schools, according to a report released on Monday by a city councilman.  According to an article  in the online edition of the New York Times:

“Using data from the city’s Department of Education, the report found that 31,079 students in first through fifth grade were now in large classes, compared with 9,756 in the 2008-9 school year…Fourth graders and fifth graders are most likely to be in large classes, according to the report, released by Councilman Brad Lander of Brooklyn.  Of current fourth graders, about 14 percent are in classes of 30 or more students, compared with 5.5 percent during the 2008-9 school year. Of fifth graders, about 17 percent were in large classes, compared with 6.5 percent three years ago. The class-size limit for both grades, set by the city and the teachers’ union, is 32 students…

Despite a 2007 commitment the city made to reduce class size across all grades, in exchange for more state funding, class sizes have increased in recent years, erasing early gains made during the Bloomberg administration.

Over the last three years, the city has lost 5,300 teachers to attrition and five consecutive rounds of cuts to schools’ budgets, a result of the national recession and decreases in state funding — though the overall budget for city schools has grown.”