charter schools, and some unpleasant reminiscences

November 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Yesterday, at a restaurant, I ran into a girl who bullied me in middle school. That mean, narrow-eyed face. Her voice like talons in my larynx. We did this so hard.

If I’ve ever hated anyone in my life, it just might be her. I hope she sucks boba down the wrong tube one day and dies, the talentless bitch.


The Myth of Charter Schools, by Diane Ravitch, for the New York Review of Books.

S. works in a low-income school district. Today she told me about “kids who are being threatened to be sent to foster care because their aunt or uncle doesn’t want to take care of them anymore, children who are physically and emotionally abused, children who don’t have money for basic school supplies, children whose parents can’t help them or chose not to help them with their school work, parents who don’t tell their children that it’s important to go to school and [discipline them] when they get in trouble for misbehavior, parents don’t do anything to support the school, parents who work all day and night and don’t have time to take care of their children and instead have 10 year olds babysitting 2 year olds and doing all the house work, children who don’t have food because their parents don’t provide them with meals, parents who are going through a divorce yet neither wants to take their child so the child gets sent off to live with another relative and bounces between homes, parents who don’t provide livable conditions for their children, i.e., allowing their dogs to poop and pee all over the house creating unsanitary conditions and only cleaning up when the social worker is due for a visit.” These are kids she works with everyday.

I was thinking about the charter school debate. As I was telling S., it’s funny — or rather, unsurprising — how the media can really dictate your opinion about certain issues. I’d heard about Waiting for Superman and Michelle Rhee before, and read Steve Brill’s hair-raising article about NYC’s public school system*, as well as a small portion of his newly released book, Class Warfare. So prior to reading the NYbooks review I was under the impression that public education deserved a big F- on its scorecard and charter schools were the best hope for underprivileged children. But really the issue is much more nuanced than that. « Read the rest of this entry »



October 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

I met one of the owners of the Middle Eastern grocery I typically visit to buy lamb shanks after volunteering on Saturdays. He was leaning against the cash register. His left eye, a clouded white marble, looked off slightly to the right. His right eye stared levelly at me. We exchanged a greeting, and he guessed correctly that I was Chinese by greeting me respectfully in that language. Then he said:

“I just came back from Benghazi. You know the situation in Libya?”

Yes, I said. I asked, “What were you there for?”

“To help,” he said mysteriously.

Then he drew me a diagram, crosshatching the areas which had been taken over by the rebels (“freedom fighters,” he corrected me), and pointing to the place where “that maniac Kadhafi” was hiding. I wanted to ask him all sorts of questions! What did he think about NATO’s role in the operation? What was his personal opinion on France and England’s involvement? And helping — what did that mean? But then another couple came to pay for their groceries and he had to help them.


September 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Pretty sure I need to mix up the number and types of publications I read, and soon.

solyndra and renewable power

September 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Solyndra is to shut down after being so heartily championed by the federal government, which had earlier forked over to the company about $500 million in loans (link). A tired storyline: cheap Chinese imports corner the market, drive everyone else out of business. Not so tired: how is China’s government subsidizing the private, clean energy firms created in and operating out of that country, and do its methods of encouraging growth in this industry conform to WTO guidelines? If the end product is cheaper clean energy, coming at the expense of the economic health of American solar companies, would and should a violation of multilateral regulations matter? An ethical rubix cube for you philosophers out there.

Relevant reading: Beijing’s crash program for clean energy, a Danish community’s victory over carbon emissions, and an inventor from MIT discovers the limitations of technological ingenuity. This last one is unendingly interesting to me because I remember reading with a great deal of fascination and curiosity about the man’s invention of a device that, literally, took and poured liquid glass into a container of some sort which, minutes later, the liquid glass I mean, hardened to become the lenses for your eye-glass frame. These lenses were perfectly calibrated on the spot to match your depth of vision. It was cheap, instantaneous, and wonderful! You’d expect this to revolutionize the eyeglass provisioning industry in developing countries, except, not to get all crushingly depressive or anything, the invention solved exactly the wrong problem. A lens factory is expensive to build and equip, but once you’ve got it built you can make lenses cheaply, and then deliver them anywhere in the world for a buck. And what culprit do we find cropping up again? Cheap Chinese labor. And global shipping. These two together make Griffith’s invention kind of beside the point. As he discovered, the problem comes from the dearth of medical personnel available to test eyes and write prescriptions. And that is an issue of economics and politics, not technology.

Being ethnic Chinese makes me feel incredibly uneasy sometimes. Not only over the government’s ludricrous human rights missteps, which seem manifold even when underreported, but also because the seemingly innocuous phrase “cheap Chinese labor” conceals god knows what breadth of abuses and brutal systematic exploitation of that country’s no-rights working force. If I were paying a fraction of a percentage more attention I’m sure I’d feel incredibly uneasy all the time, but instead I reroute my brain power to the contemplation of other matters, like fictional characters, and marmalade.

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