What’s At Stake With Online Skimming


In the morning the alarm sounds and the ritual begins.  People turn on their technology as they get ready for work.  As rush hour begins, more of us are engaging in a digital symphony of sifting through content.

With the click of a mouse, individuals can obtain access to the information they want.  This is the power of high-end computing. .  However, scientists are warning us of the consequences of constant web surfing.

According a recent piece in  The Washington Post, scientists conclude that human beings are developing digital brains.  The digital mind focuses on skimming through information.

We need individuals asking probative questions and a providing context to thrive.  Unfortunately, our culture is now dominated by nonstop cable TV news that gives sound bites and snapshots.  Also, we are also spending an average of five hours per day online according to eMarketer.

The good news is the brain is adapting to the  barrage of social media, e-mails and text messages.  The bad news is that comprehension and reading are adversely affected by all of this.  Our minds are developing short cuts to process all of this information.

There is nothing wrong with finding an efficient way to manage your information.  Sometimes a quick scan regarding  the “latest and greatest” on Facebook is the only sensible way.  Television alone has reduced our collective attention spans.  Some teachers are complaining that students are struggling through the classics.  How can civilization survive when we cannot grasp Shakespeare’s verses and Austen’s sentences?

There is a difference between online and print reading.  Based on some initial studies, researches conclude that comprehension seems better with paper.  Specialists have expressed concerns regarding learning when the love for technology can hamper their retention.  At this point, experts recommend more research regarding the differences between text and screen reading.

We cannot turn back the clock.  We all love the convenience of technology and how it makes life easier.   Yet, we have to take a break for the sake our of brain cells. Life demands constant adaptation and learning.  This happens when our minds can deal with the details.




Random Thoughts and Observations

(c) The University of Aberdeen; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Is there a fine line between normality and the straight jacket?  The line is blurring. If life is about survival of the fittest, I am toast.  At this point, I am unsure if I can last seven seconds in the Serengeti.

We are all just finding our way in the food chain.  Lately, I feel more combustible with each commute.  After work, my brains cells are turning into peanut butter.  My knees are screaming and smoke is coming out of my ears.

We all have our ways of coping.  My approach involves eating red meat and drinking coffee.  The key is finding the right balance. The problem is I cannot help myself.  Until I can just say no to bacon, I will stay on the sidelines of life. There is nothing like having mammal in the morning. There is no better way to start the day.

On another subject, I am upset with the current state of customer service. There are some hard-working people providing excellent quality service.  However, I just cannot reach tech support or customer service over the phone.  Most of the time I am on hold (actually I am on ignore) for at least 15 minutes. Please pardon me as I blow my stack. There is no way I can escape my angst.

I never wanted the keys to the kingdom.  Oddly enough, I do not want to drift into oblivion. I want to make my mark and get out-of-the-way. Is that too much to ask? It is all in the name of original Wilson-style storytelling.

Hope and Change: The Case for School Choice in North Carolina


As a single mother living in Greensboro North Carolina, Laura Hundley enjoyed sending her son Cannon to private school. Due to the financial costs of the school and separating from her husband, she had to withdraw Cannon from the school he loved.

According to Laura, her son Cannon blossomed in Wesleyan Christian Academy. From Laura’s perspective, private school teachers demand respect from their students. Also, Wesleyan Christian Academy teaches morals, ethics and virtues. The same values that are taught in school are reinforced at home. The teachers in the private school also offer a better education. The teachers often assess and re-teach material if students are struggling. “When it takes the public schools three weeks to teach, students learn in three days in private school. My son comes out of public school saying it is not Wesleyan.”

Despite her problems, Laura remains optimistic because of North Carolina’s school voucher program. “I’ve been following these programs and appropriations for the last three years. This program is like a dream come true. This grant would allow him to return to private school.”

Recently, Wake County Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood placed a temporary hold to stop North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program . Judge Hobgood’s injunction means that families must wait for the courts to sort through the legal challenges involving the state’s school voucher program.

At this point, over 4,000 low-income parents have already applied for North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarships in hopes of choosing a better education for their children. The voucher amount is up to $4,200 per child. Before Hobgood’s ruling,  North Carolina planned to hold a lottery in March to award over 2, 400 vouchers for the 2014-15 school term.

The lawsuit claims the voucher program short changes public schools, diverting funds from public schools to private schools. Also, opponents of the voucher program argue that spending taxpayer money on private schools is unconstitutional. Regardless, the families that have applied for vouchers have retained legal counsel to fight for this program.

“The text of the NC constitution does not prohibit the legislature from providing NC families with additional educational opportunities,” said Dick Komer. Komer is a Senior Attorney at the Institute of Justice and is representing the families that have applied to state’s voucher program. “Opportunities in addition to that of attending the general and uniform system of free public schools, he said. “There are some funds that can only be spent on the public school system and that system must meet the standards of the Leandro case, but there is no prohibition on spending general revenues to do more.”

In Leandro versus North Carolina, several individuals challenged the fairness of the state’s distribution of school finances based on North Carolina’s constitution, in the name of equal opportunity. Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning’s decision was that every child in the state has a constitutional right to a sound basic education that quality of education, not equal opportunity should determine whether a student’s rights are violated. For example, a student should have “sufficient ability to read, write, and speak English, and a sufficient knowledge of fundamental mathematics and physical science to enable a student to function in a complex and rapidly changing society. Where does North Carolina stand? Let’s take a look at the state current academic picture.

  • Only 30 percent of low-income children in North Carolina demonstrate proficiency on state tests.
  • According to Education Week’s Quality Counts’ report, only 35 percent of North Carolina’s fourth grade students receive a proficient score on the reading section of the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP).
  • Also, (based on the same report) only 45 percent of North Carolina’s fourth grade students score proficient on the math section of the NAEP.
  • North Carolina’s public schools spend $8,200 per student, according to the National Center for Education Statistics

The irony is that there is a voucher program in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Children’s Scholarship Fund (CSF) is a private scholarship program started in 2000. CSF awards scholarships to Mecklenburg County Families that qualify for Federal Free and Reduced Price Program. The maximum award is $2,500 per child and the program supports 400 children each year.

In analysis conducted by Jay Greene of the University of Arkansas, low-income black scholarship recipients had a combined reading and math scores six percentile points higher than their control group after only one year of schooling in 2000. In another evaluation, Joshua Cowen found similar gains for scholarship recipients in a follow-up study produced in 2007. Also, North Carolinians embrace school choice.

  • According to a survey commissioned by The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, nearly 6 of 10 North Carolina voters (57 percent) said they support school vouchers, compared to 32 percent of voters who said they oppose such a school choice system.
  • North Carolina voters are more likely to favor charter schools (57 percent) than oppose such schools (15 percent).

North Carolina has a chance to provide a vital lifeline for students in under performing public schools.  School choice is about empowering families with options in how and where their children receive an education. This battle is not only vital for North Carolina, but for everyone who believes in liberty. School choice provides an importunity bridge to the realization of opportunity, prosperity and the realization of the American dream.

Originally published by Yahoo Contributors Network.

The Future of Tenure in California’s Schools

EdwardLamsonHenry_cropped for web

Can the court provide justice for students in California’s classrooms? Can school administrators in California’s fire ineffective teachers? These are some of emerging issues in the case of Vergara versus California. The Vergara case was first filled in May 2012 on behalf of nine public school students. These students maintain they were trapped in classrooms that made it difficult to learn.

The trial is in its first week and is set to last 20 days. The California Superior Court for Los Angles is examining laws that solidify teacher tenure and seniority. The plaintiffs believe these laws make it difficult to remove incompetent educators from public schools.

The lawsuit is supported by Students Matters, which is owned by David Welch. Student Matters is a national non-profit which supports access to an excellent education through legal action. Welch is a prominent supporter of public charter schools and has made a fortune in Silicon Valley. He argues that the most ineffective educators are in high-poverty, minority schools.

As teachers obtain more experience they typically transfer to schools with fewer low-income students. As a consequence, low-income students are taught by inexperienced or inadequately prepared teachers. Educators across the country the country are watching this case. This lawsuit represents a challenge to California’s tenure provisions.

Among the regulations this court will consider is the Permanent Employment Statute, or the tenure law. The tenure law requires that administrators to either grant or deny permanent employment to teachers after 18 months. According to the litigants, a teacher essentially has a job for life after two years.

The California Superior court will also review the “Last in, First-Out Layoff Statue,” or LIFO. Plaintiffs charge this provision requires administrators to lay off teachers based on reverse seniority. .

Supporters of the current system maintain the regulations protect the due process rights of the teachers and simply provide them a hearing before being dismissed. In this context, due process means supports academic freedom and provides educators with the ability to speak out for students. Critics argue that the layoff policy affects minority and low-income students because they are more likely to have entry-level teachers and poor quality experienced teachers assigned to their school districts. The petitioners maintain that quality education is an essential and the tenure provisions are unconstitutional.

The defendants maintain these provisions are necessary in attracting teachers and providing job security. “On the contrary, if plaintiffs were to prevail it would have a destabilizing effect on California schools and would lead to discrimination against high quality, experienced teachers whom districts could dismiss at will, without a simple hearing, for speaking out on behalf of students or for simply costing a district more than a beginning teacher with less experience,” said Dean Vogel president of the California Teachers Association (CTA).

The California Teachers Association represents almost 300,000 teachers and is one of the largest unions in the state. The witnesses for the defense include Governor Jerry Brown and state Superintendent of Public and Instruction Tom Torlakson. Both the California Federation of Teachers and the CTA are supporting the defense.

“This is certainly part of a national effort to destabilize public education and as admitted by the plaintiffs”, said Vogel. ” This is another way for them to impose their corporate education reform agenda on California public schools after failing in the legislature and at the ballot box. ” Vogel maintains that teachers have a due process rights that simply provide a hearing before being dismissed. According to Vogel, under the current law in the first two years of employment any teacher, even those who have received an excellent evaluation, may be dismissed without any reason at all.

However, supporters of the plaintiffs argue differently. “Only 10 teachers out of almost 300,000 lose their job every year in California,” said Lawrence Sand of the California Teachers Empowerment Network. The California Teachers Empowerment Network is a non-profit, non-union organization for teachers. Mr. Sand is the president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network and has 38 years of teaching experience. “And only 3 of those are due to ineffective teaching. Does anyone in their right mind think that there only 2 teachers in the entire state that are incompetent?” he said.

Also, the process for dismissing a single ineffective an infinite number of steps, requires years of documentation, and is extremely expensive. “In the past 10 years in the entire state of California, only 9 teachers have been dismissed,” said Sand. “The vast majority of those dismissals were for egregious conduct. Only 19 dismissals were based, in part on unsatisfactory performance. The lawsuit rightfully claims that the seniority, tenure and byzantine dismissal statues in the state education code keep children from getting access to a quality education.”

Originally published by The Yahoo Contributors Network.

How Americans Are Reading

Antiquarian Bookshop by Richard Erdoes

There are more individuals reading a print book in the past year, even as e-reading continues its growth. This is according to report produced by the Project for Internet and American Life.  Also, three in ten adults read an e-book.  Some of the highlights from this survey include:

  • Overall, 76 percent of adults read a book in some format over the previous year.
  • The percentage of readers using e-book format has risen to 28 percent, up from 23 percent in 2012.
  • 87 percent of e-book users also read a print book in the past 12 months and 20 percent listened to an audio book
  • 84 percent of audio book consumers also read a print book in the past year, and 56 percent also read an e-book.
  • A majority of print readers read only in that format, although 35 percent of print book readers also read an e-book and 17 percent listened to an audio book.

In other words, American readers are hybrids.  There are some readers who do not have a fixed preference regarding  their method  for reading.  We enjoy having  a vast array of choices when it comes to reading books and other publications.

While I still have preference for the printed word, having access to technology comes with certain advantages. For example, I use D.C Public library’s Overdrive website. Overdrive is the digital equivalent to a library and it allows patrons to check out e-books.   Sometimes, my  long commute and work schedule prevents me from browsing the stacks of a bookstore or library.

At its best, technology makes life convenient. There are times when such tools are not user-friendly.   As full-fledged Android, I have experienced problems in downloading publications. Recently, I spent  30 minutes in trying to download The Washington Post .  In my disgust, I went to a local coffeehouse and purchased the paper.

Despite my angst, there is an opportunity to learn from my frustration.  It really isn’t about having a hard preference for printed material or technology.  This is about cultivating the reading  as much as possible and we need more of that in this country. Fostering more reading is  far more important that an argument about the most appropriate format.

In Defense of Self-Expression

Lieven Willemsz Vancoppenolle

The day of an essayist simply expounding on something close to his heart or mind is pretty much over.  It died with the English writers who mused to their heart’s content and had a readership.  Even today’s newspaper columnist must attach his or her broadside to something in the news or in the public eye.

The preceding criticism is from an established freelance editor.  The editor reviewed a composition which was eventually published.  The revisions improved the essay.  The corrections have the precision of a surgeon.

There are some people who have difficulty in receiving opinion.  Over time, constructive feedback has been instrumental in improving my writing.  It is difficult to detached my passion from each post or essay.  Yet, to make progress, I have to treat each piece objectively.

When it comes to the editor’s work, I have no doubts.  There are some objections I have regarding his commentary.  Writers do not exist in world dominated by musings and observations alone.  Nevertheless, the development of social media provides a viable platform for self-expression.  There are over 74 million WordPress sites across the world.  The age of writers expounding on something close to their hearts and minds is far from over.

After wrestling with this issue, I stumbled upon something extraordinary.  Recently, I watched a video produced by Harper Collins featuring Novelist Ann Patchett.  Patchett explores the reasons for writing and her relationship with her editor.  “He was the person in my life that I wrote for,” said Patchett.  “Because he understood me completely.  It’s a crazy thing.  Most people who want to be writers, because they desperately want to be understood.”

Regardless of the style of writing, the craft allows more people to understand me.  Blogging is just another form of storytelling.  Storytelling starts with an author having a conversation with a reader.  Arguably, social media is the most democratic form of expression.  There are no gatekeepers.  If you someone wants to blog for glory and celebrity, the opportunity exists.  However, if a blogger offers nothing more than arrogance and condescension, their audience will disappear.

I know I am fortunate for this opportunity.  The likes and comments are a source of encouragement.  The goal is not about the total domination of blogosphere.  This effort  is about having the time and space, to convey something unique.

In any case if writing is our vocation or calling, blogging represents an important outlet.  Each of us can allow our words to shine, flow and manifest; whether it provides important insight into the human experience or as entertainment.  We are all striving to forge something worthwhile.  This is our chance to offer something original.

Writing is a solitary pursuit.  Despite this, the blogosphere can function as a community.  I know that I am not alone.  What will the future hold?  I am unsure.  I will continue this effort while addressing what matters to my heart and mind. 


Why Public Libraries Remain Vital


Do we still need public libraries?  This is a very important question.  Last year, the New York Times examined  this issue.  Ironically, the Times did not find anyone in favor of closing libraries.

While  few support their closure, some individuals view public libraries as archaic.  We live in the digital age and technology provides answers instantly.  Users are just one click away from the information they seek.  Public libraries are falling behind and are becoming obsolete.

On the other side of this story, public library supporters argue for their relevancy.  There is a large percentage of Americans which share this perspective.  According to recent study produced by Pew, Americans are crazy about libraries.  The Atlantic parsed out some of the results published by this survey.  Among the findings:

  • In comparison to other American institutions, public libraries are more popular than baseball or apple pie.
  • Some 94 percent of individuals say that public library improves a community and the local library is a “welcoming, friendly place.”
  • Also, 91 percent said they had never had a bad experience while using the resources in a public library.

Public libraries play a vital role in today’s society.  There are some individuals that do not own a laptop, tablet or smart phone.  For this segment of society, public libraries provide a bridge in using important tools such as technology and literature.  Also, libraries provide a forum for important discussions and classes which encourage lifelong learning.

Speaking of education, no one can dispute the importance of Google or Apple.  Yet, librarians have the background to provide the correct answers beyond the search engine results.  In a world that needs more context, public libraries remain invaluable.

Confessions of a Fragmented Mind

Jule Verne-The Man Who Invented the Future

While I am writing, I am having garlic bread and bacon for breakfast.  I just have  some random thoughts and observations. This is just a personal invitation into my insanity.

There is no such thing as a”thought leader.” Despite the cogent advice from a friend,   I still do not understand this phrase.  Aren’t there more suitable words?  The world has enough experts, scribes, scholars,  and commentators.  Besides, thought leader sounds like an individual in charge of a cult.

I really love quiet time and spaces.  There is enough noise pollution to go around for everyone.

Do you believe the children our are future? If the children are our future, we are in so much trouble. The shrinking attention spans and ever-expanding waistlines are not reassuring.  What is going on with this knockout game?  Are kids becoming so desensitized that they think random acts of violence are fun?

The most important three word phrase  is I don’t care . What about  I Love You?  Sorry, no one cares about you outside of your family and friends.   The world subjects people to so much crap. Some members of humanity are unworthy of your time and attention.

Speaking of my fellow members of humanity, my first impression of Washingtonians was hardly positive.   Beltways maniacs seem rude and inconsiderate.  When did  “excuse me” become so inconvenient when you bump into someone?

There is something I realized after my last  collusion.  People are too indifferent to pay attention.  Commuters are checking their phones, reviewing the paper or reading a book. Sometimes, I get the loud conversations and singers practicing for their American Idol auditions.   Despite this, most people are leaving me alone and minding their own business during my daily commute. What a wonderful world.

Can you smell the  psychological scarring? The scent resembles  bad coffee and  toast. The daily grind just keeps getting better.

The Price for Progress


Does anyone have time to write letters by hand anymore?  Mason Currey examines this question in The Death of Letter Writing published recently in the New York Times.

Mason expressed concerns regarding the death of the literary letter.  He cites the publication of Saul Bellow’s letters in 2010 and William Styron’s last year as examples.  Some critics are speculating regarding the future of such collections. At this point, no one knows if there is demand for the correspondence of writers.  Is anyone waiting with batted breath regarding the e-mail collection of J. K. Rowling?

Letters are nice way of staying in touch. Also, writers use letters as  an opportunity to tweak idea and to get  feedback.  For some writers, letter writing provides a nice transition to ease out (or into) more demanding writing.  According to Mason, Ernest Hemingway turned to his letters when his fiction writing wasn’t going well.  Letters (for Hemingway) offer a welcome break from what Hemingway called the awful responsibility of writing.

Ironically, I believe e-mail provides a nice pause from juggling tasks that pile upon my desks.  Is e-mail truly different from the handwritten letter?  Some individuals think that e-mails are a distraction.  Unlike the old fashion letter, e-mails are far more active.  There is a chance that users cannot put the e-mail message out of their minds.  Also, what do people do when there is a pile of unanswered e-mails?  We do not want to ignore or disrespect the sender.  However, managing e-mail is just another task on the never-ending to do list.

What is the price for all of this progress?  There is never enough time in the day.  Meetings and deadlines dominate work.   We make time for family and friends.  After this, we go home and start this vicious cycle all over again.

There is no bigger fan of e-mail and social media than yours truly.  I use such tools to stay connected .  Are we really accomplishing anything with all of this connectivity?  Some of us may not have the time or patience to discuss the details to important matters.  Some individuals experience frustration regarding all the e-mails, text messages, voice mail and all the projects at work.  The best of us are very skillful at multitasking.  While for others, multitasking is making several mistakes simultaneously.

No, I do not think e-mail will mark the end of humanity.  In other ways, I do believe are losing out.  Sound bites have replaced a thorough discussion of important issues.  There is no adequate substitution for the specifics.

Sometimes, we need enough time and space to give work and task the appropriate attention.  In writing letters by hand, there are so very important takeaways.  Letter writing demands focus.  The handwritten letter demands you carefully build each sentence. This process allows the writer to convey something both clearly and heartfelt.  Maybe we can learn something very important from this so-called archaic form of communication.

Why Prose Matters

Henry Wotton

Is there anyone participating in National Novel Writing Month?  Aspiring novelists from across the country will work on their manuscripts beginning next month. The objective is to write a 50,000 word opus (which is around 175 pages) by November 30.  The goal is to encourage individuals to take up writing.  Is this inspirational or complete insanity?

The opportunity to write something longer than an online piece or article is appealing.  I just do not know. Lately, my mind is churning over what Christina Thompson wrote for online publication Essay Daily.  Thompson serves at the editor oHarvard Review.  In Prose Mattersshe provides a meticulous description of her criteria regarding a submission.

Of course, it’s not really true that I don’t care about content. But what I mean was that I don’t judge work based on its subject matter. I am not looking for pieces that make certain points or take certain positions or express certain views.  I am not essentially, interested in the political angel. What I am interested in is artistry that is, an author’s demonstration of mastery of his craft. 

Although Thompson’s forte is essay writing, this viewpoint is applicable across the board for the journal she edits.  She is providing invaluable insight from the other side of the process. For some individuals this specific point is obvious.   No editor wants to review a work that is not polished or incomplete. The following passage really caught my attention.

What I really like-what I’m always looking for-is writers who know what they’re doing. This is not necessarily the same as those who have written for a long time, though, to be sure, practice helps. The real difference, I think, is between those who see writing simply as means of communicating something they feel needs to be said, and those who see writing as an art form. While there is certainly place in the world for the form, it is not Harvard Review.

Fascinating, are all my efforts to develop informative work is for nothing? Shakespeare, James Joyce, William Faulkner, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes and Saul Bellow are artists.  These authors have reached immortality.  My goal is to draft a crisper form of prose with each piece. This is just great. Dr. Thompson’s conclusion hits home like the Peanuts comic strip.  After reading this, she is playing Lucy and I am Charlie Brown. She just yanked the football away.

After landing on my back, my brain starts churning. Good writing must evoke sensation in t readers.  For example, the fact that it is raining tomorrow is irrelevant (from a writing point of a view). As an aspiring scribe, I must capture the experience of the rainfall coming down on someone.  This is an example of the artistry Thompson discussed. I must develop this in my style of writing.  Unfortunately, I am not there yet.  However, this is something worth striving toward.

At this point, I will not take part in the National Writing Novel Event.  Writing is a solitary activity. This event offers a chance to connect with the writing community. Regardless, I want to wish everyone participating in this event good luck.  In time, I must think more like a painter and less like a carpenter.