Sunday, January 01, 2006

Blog Review: Right on the Left Coast

Here is the first of the (hopefully weekly) blog reviews. This week's featured blog is Right on the Left Coast, a blog by Darren Miller, a teacher in California. Darren is my first,, volunteer and I thank him for his time. Just as a note, Darren answered these questions while on the road for a conference in Florida.

Right on the Left Coast, for those who are uninitiated (not that there are many), refers to a conservative on the West Coast (which is on the left side of map and political spectrum). The tongue in cheek name belies Darren's style, one in which he takes everyday situations in his career and turns them into discussions of broader themes. Darren is a teacher, and some of his posts deal with teaching and the fun he has teaching (at least I think this is fun):
I keep a squirt bottle in class. Its primary purpose is for cleaning the overhead projector, but its secondary purpose is somewhat more, how shall I say this, disciplinary. Feet on the desk? Squirt. Sleeping in class? Squirt. Do something I think merits getting squirted? Squirt. It's most effective.

Students are forbidden to touch the squirt bottle. In fact, they're forbidden even to think about touching the squirt bottle. Why? Because I said so. You disagree? Squirt.

However, it is his commentary about the political that is particularly good and always worth a read. Darren's politics come shining through and he makes no apologies about it. But he does so with a style that is not nearly in your face as other conservatives. His conservatism has a pragmatic side as well, and from the reading I have done of his site lacks the hypocrisy of some political writers, from both sides of the aisle, when events don't fit his world view.

Darren has been on a long crusade against teachers unions, in particular the California Teachers Association. In fact, Darren recently resigned from both the CTA and the NEA, while lamenting the fact that he likes his local union, but cannot stay just in the local while shucking the larger organizations.

In one of the more interesting series of posts (dated 5/26-28/05), Darren decided to attend a protest of Governor Schwarzenegger's reform initiatives. Among the things Darren expeienced as a conservative supporting the Governor at a rally in opposition to the initiatives:

Not too far away from me was a group of off-duty police officers. They were wearing t-shirts from a law enforcement officer union and no doubt were there, as so many other union people were, because they or their union disagree with the governor. No problem.

One of the group approached me and called me some fairly foul names. He discussed some sexual practices in which he thought I'd be interested in participating, and threatened me physically. His friends stood by and did nothing to rein in this comrade of theirs who was displaying the most serious lack of professionalism I've observed in quite some time. I finally smiled at the guy and thanked him for his offer, but stated I could find more attractive sexual partners than him. I then walked to a shady spot about 20 feet away. He did not follow me.

Darren did post a very funny picture from the protest--I liked and thought it was funny.

Although he does not post everyday, he is one of those bloggers whose writings always have a point, are always thought provoking and usually entertaining. In short, Darren blogs because he likes it, not because he thinks he needs to do it everyday.

The Interview
In 25 words or less, what is your blog about?
It is about education, politics, and anything else
that catches my attention.

What prompted you to begin blogging?
I enjoyed reading other blogs, and as opinionated as I am, thought it would be fun to put my own thoughts out there. Joanne Jacobs of and Kimberly Swygert of Number 2 Pencil inspired me. I read both of their blogs daily, and a dozen others.

Is there a particular posting you have made in the past three months of which you are particularly proud? If so, please provide a link.
You know it's not fair to ask for only one!

My best posts are ones in which I take an issue somewhat related to education and expand/expound upon it in a greater context, be it social, political, or whatever. In that vein I offer these two posts:
Social Justice, Cultural Competence, etc. (Oct. 28, 2005)
San Francisco Schools To Military: "Screw You" (Nov. 11, 2005)

And for a story to stir the blood of every red-blooded American, I offer this personal tale: Proud to Be An American (Oct. 15, 2005)

According to your profile, you like the book Democracy in America. Given the massively broad scope of de Tocqueville’s work, what segments of Democracy in America, in general or in specific, do you think pertains to education in particular?
I don't have the book with me here at my conference in Florida so it's hard to say what, if anything, I highlighted about education. And it's been awhile since I read the book. I was most struck, however, with his sweeping generalizations (many true, many not) about the American body politic, as well as his prognostications. Even if his predictions didn't always pan out, he clearly understood American government better than most people do today.

Many of your posts directly attack or dismantle the various teachers’ unions you were forced to join and/or pay fees to. Given this view that you have, is there anything these unions have done that have improved your working conditions?
Unions were valuable entities a century ago, when laborers truly were exploited by corporations. Today, however, the great work of labor unions has already been completed. The only value in labor unions is to protect what was won by previous generations. In that regard, I must reluctantly conclude that today's unions have done nothing to improve my working conditions.

In general, do you think teachers’ unions have improved education? Why or why not?
No, and they shouldn't. Labor unions get their money from forced dues (at least in non-right-to-work states like California). Accordingly, they should spend that money on the pay, benefits, and working conditions of the union members, not on the students in the form of various social welfare initiatives. Improving education is the responsibility of the taxpayers through their elected legislature and school board, not of the teachers unions. In other words, the unions should be neutral.

But they're not. Whole language, fuzzy math, resistance to vouchers--these cause great harm to our students, and they are fronted by the teachers unions.

If you were asked to give three pieces of advice to new teachers, what would they be?
a. Let me teach you what Delores Cook taught me about classroom management.
b. Read, for yourself, what you're voting on before you vote on it. That goes for ballot issues as well as your contract.
c. Don't take work home with you more than one weekend a month. And don't come in to school to work on the other weekends, either!

What do you consider to be the most pressing educational problem we as a nation will face in the next 10 years? Why?
It might be the social upheaval brought by having such an inordinate ratio of women to men college graduates--there won't be enough compatibly educated (and earning) men for all the women. But I don't know if that will manifest itself in only 10 years.

Far more likely will be the watering down of the standards movement. There are many reasons for it, starting with the parents (who don't always enforce discipline or set high standards for their kids), through teachers who don't think kids can or should be held to high standards, to students who don't value the work required to master material, to politicians who don't want to deal with voter anger when so many students fail. It's easier for everyone just to make the problem go away and go back to the 80s/90s, and that's what will happen.

With the caveat that as the editor of my own blog, is there a blog that you like which you would like to see interviewed in this space? Please provide a link to the blog.
Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs

Thank you for allowing me to participate.

Thank you Darren!!!

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