Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'


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Kate Harding argues on Salon against Michelle Obama’s health plan to target childhood obesity on the basis that it hurts their self-image and causes all manner of distress to the little butterballs. But a few things get me in how she presents the case:

Now, let’s unpack that a little bit. According to the CDC, for children, “Obesity is defined as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex.” 12.5 percent of preschool-aged children, 17 percent of kids 6-11, and 17.6 percent of adolescents up to 19 are obese by those criteria. So the key words in that one-third stat are “overweight or” — combining the two categories makes the “childhood obesity epidemic” sound a lot more dramatic than it is. Granted, there has been a big jump in the childhood obesity numbers since 1980 (up from 5 percent, 6.5 percent and 6 percent, respectively), but the good news is, there’s evidence that it’s already leveled off.

Uh, if you define obesity by relative to the average, then when the average changes, the parameters that define ‘obese’ change. To put it another way, if the average person drinks a fifth of whiskey a day, only those who drink two fifths can be alcoholics. But wait, hold on: Doctors may have posited just why the numbers in that Center for Disease Control study leveled off:

Dr. Ludwig [of the Optimal Weight for Life Program at Children’s Hospital Boston] said the plateau might just suggest that “we’ve reached a biological limit” to how obese people could get. When people eat more, he said, at first they gain weight; then a growing share of the calories go “into maintaining and moving around that excess tissue,” he continued, so that “a population doesn’t keep getting heavier and heavier indefinitely.”

This is as fat as we can get! We’ve reached the maximum capacity for fatness! Now we can only get more dense until we’re all American singularities. But back to Ms. Harding:

I’m sure you don’t have anything against fat kids, Mrs. Obama. But you know who does? Other kids. And a lot of adults, including parents who see their fat children as reflections of their own failings, as disappointments, as embarrassments, and doctors who see them as problems to be solved. You said in your speech yesterday, “Teachers see the teasing and bullying; school counselors see the depression and low-self-esteem.” But your solution to that is to get rid of the fat, not the hate.

You can’t solve a problem if you can’t call it a problem. Then again, making it socially acceptable to be unhealthy is totally a great idea.

I’m sorry, Mrs. Obama. I shouldn’t get so snippy with you, when it’s prejudice and hatred that really anger me. Like I said, I think what you’re doing here is great for the most part. But gosh, I wish you’d consider focusing on Health at Every Size instead of childhood obesity.

Sure, but at certain sizes there’s early-onset diabetes.

On a whim, I looked up Kate Harding. I think I found out where the anger was coming from.

Obama’s Speech on Education Censored by Certain School Districts

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I weep now.

Speaking of education, Reading Rainbow’s going off the air after 26 years. Why? Because the policies set under the Bush administration emphasized how to read rather than why one should read.

Even now Bush is destroying my childhood. I weep now.

Rubber Rooms

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Another article on the New Yorker about the incredible inefficient bureaucracy that creates the situation of the Rubber Rooms, but even more incredible is the sense of entitlement in some of the teachers in it. To quote,

Neither the Mayor nor the chancellor is popular in the Rubber Room. “Before Bloomberg and Klein took over, there was no such thing as incompetence,” [elementary school teacher] Brandi Scheiner, standing just under the Manhattan Rubber Room’s “Handle with Care” poster, said recently… “Before Bloomberg and Klein, everyone knew that an incompetent teacher would realize it and leave on their own,” Scheiner said. “There was no need to push anyone out.”

*cough cough BULLSHIT*

It takes between two and five years for cases to be heard by an arbitrator, and, like Scheiner, most teachers in the Rubber Rooms wait out the time, maintaining their innocence. One of Scheiner’s Rubber Room colleagues pointed to a man whose head was resting on the table, beside an alarm clock and four prescription-pill bottles. “Look at him,” she said. “He should be in a hospital, not this place. We talk about human rights in China. What about human rights right here in the Rubber Room?” Seven of the fifteen Rubber Room teachers with whom I spoke compared their plight to that of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay or political dissidents in China or Iran.

Except, y’know, the full pay, vacation time, union-supervised arbitration and the lack of torture. The rest of the article speaks to the ridiculously high satisfactory ratings (98.7%) and the difficulty even in dealing with those who fail to make it – along with a list of probable causes, ranging from Teach for America to the United Federation of Teachers – but my money is still on the tenure track and the lack of any direct relationship between student success and teacher retention.

As an aside, this isn’t to say that I want the UFT’s back broken. Amidst the hiring freeze and budget crunch thanks to the economic downturn, I’ve been in the unenviable position of witnessing the layoffs of five teachers (including the UFT rep), three in the maths and sciences… while the school band got new uniforms and instruments. I’ve also been in the awkward position of having to serve as a witness in the arbitration of a rubber roomed teacher – it was settled out of court; I don’t want the blood of somebody’s career on my hands – that largely boiled down to politics. It’s a dirty world out there.

Missionaries in the Provinces

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I dare you to read this tripe and not start brain hemorrhaging from the hypocrisy and the casual racism. Coming from a “teacher” by the name of Christopher Jackson, it’s a long diatribe from a white man about teaching in a majority Black school, including such gems as:

Most of the blacks I taught simply had no interest in academic subjects. I taught history, and students would often say they didn’t want to do an assignment or they didn’t like history because it was all about white people. Of course, this was “diversity” history, in which every cowboy’s black cook got a special page on how he contributed to winning the West, but black children still found it inadequate.

Anyone who teaches blacks soon learns that they have a completely different view of government from whites. Once I decided to fill 25 minutes by having students write about one thing the government should do to improve America. I gave this question to three classes totaling about 100 students, approximately 80 of whom were black. My white students came back with generally “conservative” ideas. “We need to cut off people who don’t work,” was the most common suggestion. Nearly every black gave a variation on the theme of “We need more government services.”

There is something else that is striking about blacks. They seem to have no sense of romance, of falling in love. What brings men and women together is sex, pure and simple, and there is a crude openness about this.

Many black people, especially women, are enormously fat… Many black girls simply do not care that they are fat. There are plenty of white anorexics, but I have never met or heard of a black anorexic.

Many black girls are perfectly happy to be welfare queens.

Blacks can be smiling, seemingly perfectly content with what they are doing, having a good time, and then, suddenly start fighting. It’s uncanny.

The real victims are the unfortunate whites caught in this.

Many white students possess a certain innocence; their cheeks still blush.

“Do you think I really hate black people?”
“Have I done anything to make you feel this way? How do you know?”
“You just do.”
“Why do you say that?”

He just smirked, looked out the window, and sucked air through his teeth. Perhaps this was a regional thing, but the blacks often sucked air through their teeth as a wordless expression of disdain or hostility.

It may come as a surprise after what I have written, but my experiences have given me a deep appreciation for teaching as a career. It offers a stable, middle-class life but comes with the capacity to make real differences in the lives of children.

and many, many more. I’m tempted to quote the whole thing, but it sickens me.

I teach in a majority Black school. Almost all the teachers are white, fresh from college, and new to the city. The kids know they’re getting short shrift. They know these teachers come like missionaries to the provinces and try to extol the virtues of civilization to the savages before burning out in three years and entering into a real career, and the students are generally pissed about it. They’d have to be blind not to be.

The biggest problem the new teachers have to face is that the hostility the kids are focusing on them is entirely justified, and that the problem is no less than systemic. The term of the day is “self-serving prophecy” and the fault is institutional. With such obvious social disconnect as this man (who is thankfully no longer teaching in that school) it’s no wonder why.

Brooklyn Public Education

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The Good: After school tutoring. Students going nuts to work off all that junk food they’ve been munching on all day. Take a novelty hand grenade from my bag, “Catch.” Girl: “I caught it! I caught it! …Oh!”

The Bad: Thug-in-training, been wandering the halls for half an hour, ducks into a classroom. He’s stopped by a school aide as he wanders back out.

Aide: “Hey, c’mere.”
Thug: “I’m here. [Pause] What? Aren’t you supposed to be talkin’ while I pretend to listen?”
Aide: “Did that teacher even bother to say anything when you walked into his class?”
Thug: “No. He can try.”

Thug-in-training wanders off. Aide shrugs.

The Ugly: On the street, two girls from a different high school.

Girl 1: “Hey, can I get your numba?”
Girl 2: “That’s a teacha, nigga!”
Girl 1: “Oh. Can I get your numba?”*

* The Uglier: I told this to a friend, who then had to be explained why it would be a moral, ethical and professional wrongness to do anything but ignore such an entreaty.

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