Readin’ and Writin’ and Lousy ‘Rithmetic


Christopher Kieras of Seymour, Connecticut, may have fibbed about his residency when he enrolled his daughter in an elementary school in Westport. That’s what the school district said when they sued Mr. Kieras back in June to recover $27,911 in tuition. Actually, the district which investigates more than 30 student residency cases each school year wants to recoup triple the tuition as damages.

familiesonlinemagazine.comIt seems the Kieras’ daughter is an illegal alien in Westport.

Oh. Sorry. An undocumented child.

Meanwhile, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in August that Alabama public schools can’t check the citizenship status of new students. That’s unconstitutional, the federal appeals court said.

Judges said fear of the law “significantly deters undocumented children from enrolling in and attending school ….”

Say what?

If the results in Westport and other Connecticut towns are any indicator, illegal aliens darned well should be afraid. After all, if we don’t let kids from the next town into our local schools, we certainly can’t let kids from the next country!

Oh. Wait. We really don’t let kids from the next town into our local schools but kids from the next country get a free hall pass.

Connecticut’s neighboring Weston school district now requires deeds or lease records, or statements from landlords. Here in Vermont, residents have to declare their homestead on their income tax returns — the form includes a box for school district, too. The Weston school district (and the Vermont Department of Taxes) better watch out that the American Civil Liberties Union doesn’t take us all to task over the Connecticut version of “show-me-your-papers.”

“Nobody quarrels with wanting the best for your children,” school district attorney Catherine S. Nietzel said, “but it’s not fair for people who do pay taxes and part of those taxes are used for schools.” OK, nobody but the ACLU. And the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Imagine that.

They. Just. Don’t. Listen.

My old friend Lido “Lee” Bruhl is a retired newspaper editor who enjoys the wordplay that happens in social media today. He passed along this poster:

“The planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.”
–David Orr

Fredo “Two Fingers” Caronia was the first to respond.

Amen!” he said.

18 more similar responses appeared, most posted from one or another flavor of Apple computer.

I counted six more knee-jerk agreements, two Make Love Not War bumper stickers, five bashing the one-percent, three people against Big Banks, one plea to kick the peace keepers out of Pakistan (?), and one that announced Ross Perot’s poodle had caused all of our country’s problems.

Hello? Somebody has to earn the gelt to pay for the peacemakers and healers and restorers and storytellers and lovers. If you want a world that is un-habitable and inhumane, try one where all the businesses are forced to fail and all the inventors and entrepreneurs are ostracized, wrote the one contrary voice in the Wilderness.

Apple computer was created and marketed by a remarkably successful kid who had been frustrated by his formal schooling and who dropped out of Reed College after six months.

Words to live by! LOVED, ‘Liked,’ Shared. Thanks, Lee!!!” Fanny Guay wrote even after I had weighed in.

“To my perplexion,” Liz Arden said, “no one paid attention to the fact that the context they put Mr. Orr’s quote in dooms us to scrabble in the dirt eating bugs.”

The quote itself was lifted from environmental educator David Orr’s 1991 article, What Is Education For? in which he discusses six myths about the foundations of modern education, and six new principles to replace them. He repeated it in the 1994 polemic Earth in Mind, a book that examines not the problems in education but the problem of education. It is a topic he has emphasized since the 1980s.

He argues that much of what has gone wrong with the world is the result of “inadequate and misdirected education that alienates us from life in the name of human domination.” He also quotes Thomas Merton who called education the “mass production of people literally unfit for anything except to take part in an elaborate and completely artificial charade.” (Mr. Merton’s advice to students was to “be anything you like, be madmen, drunks, and bastards of every shape and form, but at all costs avoid one thing: success.”)

Meanwhile entrepreneur, Chess Master, PayPal co-founder, and Stanford Law School grad, Peter Thiel is paying college students to drop out.

I agree with most of the points Dr. Orr made. After all, a college education has indeed ruined many a good garbage collector. (He said “our education up till now has in some ways created a monster.”)

He lost me by quoting the Trappist monk and mystic, Father Merton.

See, the problem isn’t that we ought not prepare our students to succeed. I don’t want to scrabble around in the dirt eating bugs, either. The way to assure that I don’t have to is to keep teaching the next generation and the next and the next. The problem is that so so many people here equate success with bad.

Success is good. But the bashers simply don’t hear us when we say so.

Dr. Orr, by the way, is the Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics and Special Assistant to the President of Oberlin College and a James Marsh Professor at the University of Vermont. He holds a B.A. from Westminster College, an M.A. from Michigan State, and a Ph.D. in International Relations from the University of Pennsylvania.

Interesting that we the loudest critics of education already have ours, innit.

Of course I want change our schools so kids do gain knowledge, some culture, and the critical thought skills necessary to interpret next year’s data.


Humans rely on habit and muscle memory to accomplish every day tasks.

Ergonomists know every detail about how we interact with our tools. Frederick Winslow Taylor who earned a degree in mechanical engineering by correspondence at Stevens Institute of Technology, pioneered the “Scientific Management” method to find the optimum method for carrying out pretty much any job. During WWII, a young lieutenant named Alphonse Chapanis eliminated most “pilot error” by de-confusing airplane controls.

In about 1973, a fellow on my pit crew installed the shift linkage backwards on the race car. I went out and shifted from third gear to first when I thought I was grabbing fourth. Surprised pretty much everyone including the engine builder when that about stood the car on its nose.

“A good driver should be able to adjust,” he said.

No. A good driver should be able to concentrate on pointing the car, not on where the next gear might be this week.

Big consumer companies employ most of the (working) ergonomists in the universe. Heck, I’d bet a doughnut that two or three of them work for Microsoft. Why are these consumer companies so blind to the way we accomplish everyday tasks? Why do they want us to keep adjusting to different shift linkages?

Liz Arden mentioned this morning that Google™ has changed its Latitudinal Check In so she can’t just poke a button on her desktop any more.

Not a biggie in the grand scheme of things but it fits the age old question, why did they have to fix something that weren’t broke?

Google had trained us to use their service one way and now they want us to do it some other way for no reason other than that they can.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes wrote three years ago that Windows 7’s changes “suggest … that Microsoft is putting design ahead of usability.” Ya think? Apple afficionados say the same thing about the company Mr. Jobs built on the perfect User Interface. I Googled “Lion annoyances” and came up with about 297,000 results which is far fewer than the 1,540,000 results I found for “Windows 7 annoyances.” An entire industry has had to spring up to publish quick cures and workarounds for the two most “popular” computer operating systems.

Lion changed the three finger salute of Snow Leopard to two fingers, and reserved the three finger gesture for Mission Control. In Windows 7, you can’t tell which programs are actually running on the Taskbar and which are just links since some, like Internet Exploder, add an identical button for every open window and some, like WordPerfect and Dreamweaver, simply change the look of the one button so you know what to push. Microsoft also moved all the files around in Windows 7 so “My Documents” is now just another broken link and your IT department can’t find anything without retraining.

Microsoft and Apple had trained us to use our computers one way and now they want us to do it some other way for no reason other than that they can.

And who ever heard of pushing “START” to turn off the engine.

Oh. That’s how keyless cars work now, too.

Every time I thought I’d got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet

NPR jumped on that bandwagon last week when Science Friday changed its website. “Redesigned with you in mind” is its new banner.

You maybe, but not me. It is now totally buggered.

I don’t subscribe to many podcasts because I don’t necessarily listen to every show and have enough clutter on both my hard drive and my broadband connection to want it filled with stuff I don’t use. SciFri trained me to go to their site to download the segments I want to hear each week. It was fast. It was accurate. It was scientific.

SciFri had trained us to listen one way and now they want us to do it some other way for no reason other than that they can.

Like host Ira Flatow’s approach to Global Warming, the site is no longer fast, nor accurate, nor scientific. In fact, of the two segments I grabbed last week, one had pieces of three with one piece repeated and the other was screwy. [ed. note: see the update from NPR in the Comments section below.]


I can fix this by teaching the companies just one word but I don’t work cheap.

Tuesday Twaddle

H&R Block in Kansas City, Missouri, visited the widely known and vastly respected No Puffin Perspective on Sunday, about a year after I disclosed my findings in a mildly critical report of the operation of their tax program.

Corporate vanity surfing is becoming more common as companies seek to capitalize on (and protect) their brands. I wonder if the H&R Block visitor was an accountant, a webmaster, or simply someone in the office with time on his or her own hands.

They stayed only a moment and apparently had just one page view, so I’m thinking they may not have learned anything. On the other hand, the H&R Block Newsletter – March Tax Tips arrived by email this morning.


Thor’s Thursday Trials & Tribulations

STOCK ISLAND CAMPUS, FL — Keys Construction crews are rushing to complete the new Lagoon Landing dormitory of Florida Keys Community College for the grand opening tomorrow.

Move-in day for the students is Saturday, just two days before classes start. It has taken five years to plan and build the new 43,000-square-foot, 100-bed, $8.2 million dorm. 78 students have already applied for housing there. About half are from outside Florida and most from outside Monroe County.

Most of them are from away? This is a COMMUNITY COLLEGE, the whole purpose of which is to serve people in what? Community colleges ought not have students from a thousand miles away, let alone have $8.2 million dorms for them to stay in.