Friday, December 26, 2014

A Moment of Bureacratic Cheer at Christmastide

There's a delightful anecdote in a book I'm reading, Dark Paths, Cold Trails by Doug Clark (ISBN 978-0002000789) -- a discussion of the Canadian crimefighting system.  It says here on page 231of the trade-paperback edition that when the government issued Ontario's single-payer-plan health cards, 12 million cards were issued for the 10 million people in that snowy province.  The application forms had been sent out to people's house pets, among other small mistakes.  And as a little bonus, Ella Galligan, a 102-year-old Ontario resident who was the daughter of a former member of Parliament and the mother of a Supreme Court judge, was denied a health card because her claim was no good -- they called her a "refugee claimant," whatever that means. 
That made me smile. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Saw This Image on CNN News Today...

...And I have to say it gave me a bit of a chill.  This is actually the logo for the Chrysler Company, in gleaming 3-D on the front of their headquarters.  I looked up and saw this as the item was just about to change over to something else, but what I did catch (I was in a diner and there was no sound, only closed captioning) was perfectly in tune with this serene image:  EVERYTHING IS UNDER CONTROL.  WE HAVE DONE NOTHING WRONG.  CHRYSLER IS MANAGING EVERYTHING PERFECTLY.
OK, so I just looked up CNN News to see what story they covered in relation to the Chrysler Corporation today.  The headline says "CHRYSLER EXPANDS RECALL TO 3.3 MILLION VEHICLES."  Faulty airbags, it says.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Kathy's WWII Awareness Survey

My co-worker at a previous job, named Kathy, once designed and administered a national survey under the guidance of a world-famous sociologist, to learn how much people still knew about World War Two.   This was in the late Eighties, when there were still millions of living veterans of that war in every town -- the numbers are thinning out considerably now.  The video stores were packed with titles like Hell In The Pacific, Ensign Pulver and Stalingrad, and TV was showing daily reruns of McHale's Navy and Hogan's Heroes.  College film courses required you to watch Night and Fog and Triumph of the Will  -- all of it! -- and English classes wanted you reading Hersey's Hiroshima cheek by jowl with Heller's Catch-22.  A lot of your teachers, your parents or grandparents, your neighbors, the TV repairman, your pharmacist, that guy with no legs who lived in the alley behind the house...they all fought in that war, or lost someone in it, or came to the USA to get away from it.  These people knew the war ditties, they remembered the ration coupons and recycling drives, the plane spotters and USO girls, and of course they remembered the Baby Boom after it was all over.  Kathy and I were both Boomers ourselves.  So Kathy set up a phone survey to see what erudite college students like ourselves knew about the biggest war that ever happened in human history.  She was targeting the educated middle-class kids, in other words, most of them attending college on money generated by that very war.

This was only about 15 years after the last man in active combat in that war, Hiro Onoda, who had been living in the Philippine jungles all this time, killing anyone who got too close and thinking the war was still going on, was convinced to come on home to Japan.   

What did Kathy find out with her survey?

  • Everyone more or less knew who Adolf Hitler was.
  • About half had heard of Joe Stalin.  Not everyone who recognized the name knew who he was, though.
  • Mussolini?  Who's he?  Never heard of him.
  • Practically nobody knew who Hirohito was.
  • Some of them who Franklin Delano Roosevelt was.  Not everyone knew his role in that war, though.
  • Only a few respondents knew what the key points of dispute were in the Second World War.
  • Most respondents did not know when the war happened.
  • Most were not clear on when the USA entered the war, or why.  To some, it was news that the USA fought in that war at all.
  • Not everyone knew whose side the USA was on.
  • Not everyone knew how it came out at the end.
  • Everyone had heard of the Holocaust.  Almost nobody knew why it happened or how many people died in it.  Not everyone knew it was connected to the war, and of those who did, not everyone knew how it was connected.
  • A handful knew Anne Frank's name.  They were far from clear on who she was -- one respondent said she was "a little blind and deaf girl who overcame her problems."
And this was decades BEFORE the Internet supposedly stopped up our heads with kitten memes and excised our ability to read anything longer than a paragraph-long Wikipedia article.

I wonder what the results would be if she ran those questions by college students today?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

School Meetings: A Source of Major Mental Illness In The USA?

I just came from a meeting at a public school.  Intended to develop and refine an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) for a struggling student, it included a massive team of school and other staff.  The student and the mom were there; the kid was in good form and showed up prepared with a list of issues to discuss.  Several of his friends were lurking in the lobby, evidently for moral support.  The special-ed teacher was there, as was the general-ed teacher.  The school social worker was there.  There were not one, but THREE therapists present.  There was a Wraparound worker, whose job it is to get varying service systems, like the public schools and the therapists sent by Juvenile Court, to work together smoothly, like the gears in a well-oiled machine.  There was some woman typing everything we said into a computer; she appeared to be another social worker or guidance counselor of some sort.  I think the office where we met was hers.  And then there was me, paper squared up in front of my chair, pen in hand, poised to take note of any sign of discord, either creative or destructive.

The one-hour meeting took an hour and a half.  Most of the IEP team showed up late, except the ones who didn't really need to be there, like me.  This in itself is extremely disturbing when noted in a public-school setting.  Remember Ivan Pavlov and his drooling dogs?  School staff are trained similarly to the dogs, to obey the sound of a ringing bell; they are trained to move as one when they hear it, to the appointed place, by the appointed time.  From there, they complete their appointed tasks in the appointed order.  Then the bell rings again, and the herd stampedes to the next appointed place...It wasn't happening today, I guess.

While I was waiting for everyone to show up, the desk lady volunteered that the student was on the way from gym class and the mom was down the hall, at what she called the Occult Shop.  "That can't be what I heard you say," I said.  "Where is she again?"  "The Occult Shop," she repeated.  What high school has an Occult Shop?  Especially here, in a part of the country you might fittingly describe as Pentecost Alley?  I probed no further.   I gotta start saving up for that hearing aid...

As I say, the student was ready for action.  There was a single major request made by this student, discussed in advance with the social worker and the parents.  What response did the student get?  Well, that's not fair to you because it's halfway through the year, and you wouldn't be able to catch up with the kids in the new class.

The student said, But this is strictly a review year for me anyway.  I finished the work they're doing now last year, at the other school I just came from. 

The typist said, Well, that's not fair to your special-ed teacher, who would have to walk you across the street to the other building.  This is onerous and cruel and would make him LATE FOR THE BELL.  You also might be LATE FOR THE BELL.  We don't want that, do we?  The social worker, who had discussed this issue with the student earlier in the week and who, you would think, would have already discussed this as well, was nodding sagely.  Never mind that even at this very meeting, all the school staff were LATE FOR THE BELL.

Nobody suggested at any point that a 15-year-old student pretty well doing well in every class might make it across the street alone.

The social worker brought up another point.  The math class you want to leave is during third hour.  The other building doesn't HAVE the math class you want at third hour.  The typist nodded sagely.

The student stared at the floor as the adults decided that the kindest thing to do for this poor child was to keep the math class -- the one with the F on the grade report in front of us -- just the way it was, F and all, I guess.  It's fairer for the student.  It's fairer for the teacher.  It helps everyone OBEY THE BELLS, was the adult consensus.  (And isn't that the important thing?)

The student had already laid out the exact reasons why the current math class was a bust and what was needed to make a passing grade possible -- things available, we learned, in the class across the road.  Only after the decision was made, and the kid was crushed, did mom ask whether it might be possible to have some of those things added to the current math class.  The school staff treated this as a thrilling innovation -- even though the typist said every kid in the school is supposed to have those things ready to hand, like a math book to refer to and a calculator.  They did not, however, commit to getting these things for the student.  The typist, who recorded everything everyone else said, did not type this into the plan.

The therapist for the parents -- Flod only knows what she was doing there in the first place -- overstepped her bounds and tried to do some impromptu therapy on the student.  The student's therapist, guidance counselor and school counselor were already there and did not contribute a single syllable.  By this time the kid had gone from calm and purposeful to agitated, starting to pace the room and talk about getting out of there.  I was twitching quite a bit myself at that point, but occupied myself writing down all the examples of discord. 

So even though there are 2 Fs on that grade report and the kid wants to do better, the school staff is happy keeping everything JUST AS IT IS.  Because then they can OBEY THE BELLS.  They can proceed WITHOUT VIOLATING THE EXISTING PLAN.  And that, dear reader, is how the desire to maintain Order can create Chaos, specifically the Chaos churning in this kid's guts...

Saturday, December 06, 2014

My Current Favorite Among Internet Memes

This meme originally came to me via e-mail with an image of an angry dog, but this version not only comes on a handsome coffee cup, but BOB's sacred image is included

Quote of the Day

"In the long run, you get much faster results."

(& are you surprised that my boss said this in front of everybody at a training conference?)