Archive for January, 2013

The Feeling Is Mutual

January 15, 2013

Rolling Jubilee

The first time I heard the term “mutual aid society” was when it was used to describe the Rolling Jubilee, a project run by an Occupy spin-off called Strike Debt, that buys debt for pennies on the dollar, but instead of collecting it, abolishes it… creating, in their own small way, a bailout of the people by the people.

For the last few holiday seasons, the Bull Raker clan has donated to worthy causes in the names of our extended families, and I chose Rolling Jubilee this time around because I was won over by the creativity and efficiency of the project.  For each dollar collected, Strike Debt is able to abolish $20 worth of debt, thus highlighting the failures of our current economic and political systems. In a time when our elected followers are led by big money interests into crisis after pre-fabricated crisis (Or should I say cliff after fiscal cliff?), the Rolling Jubilee shows us how arbitrarily high debt can be and how utterly incapable our government is in assisting people who really need the help.

While mutual aid societies may not always be scalable (e.g. as successful as the Rolling Jubilee is, it can’t possibly abolish all bad debt on its own), they empower citizens to find creative solutions and build a better world. Now that’s something 99% of us should get behind!

Good Eats

Here’s an idea I have for a local mutual aid society:

It’s similar to restaurant.com but, rather than customers purchasing on-line coupons through a for-profit marketing company, they can buy them from a non-profit that would funnel its earnings into food banks and soup kitchens. This would create a system where those who are more fortunate can help feed the hungry, while saving money too. Do you have an idea for a mutual aid society? If so, please share!

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High Stakes And Low Standards

January 14, 2013

Still wondering what public education may look like if the ed deformers get their way? Then just take some of the many computer-based tests available through billion-dollar digital learning companies, who not coincidentally are playing a big role in the push for standardized testing in K-12 schools. I recently did and what I learned (or didn’t learn) was disturbing.

In preparation for my Linux+ certification exam, I took a pricy week-long on-line training program, which consisted of hours of boring lectures via videoconference. In other words, rather than using technology to teach concepts in innovative ways, as the ed deformers often claim will happen in public schools, the training company went the cheaper route… both in terms of cost and educational value. As the days wore on, I found it harder to focus on the person blindly talking to me on the screen. Fortunately, or unfortunately as the case may be, I passed the certification exam with flying colors.

How was I able to do it? Easy. Each night, we were given practice exams and asked to take them over and over again until we achieved a score of 85% or higher. It wasn’t very difficult since, after each attempt, we were given the correct answers. It was simply a matter of memorizing multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank responses. Despite misgivings of several of her students, our instructor assured us that by utilizing this strategy we were almost guaranteed to pass — as evidenced by her 95% success rate. Not until I sat down to take the certification exam at the end of the week did I realize why she was so confident, as nearly every question was identical to one we covered in a practice exam!

Standardized testing is one of many ways teachers evaluate their students. It’s not meant to be the only indicator of student performance nor is it to be used as an indicator of teacher performance (e.g. while 95% of my instructor’s students pass their exams, I doubt they retain much knowledge). The incentive to cheat or teach to the test is too high when so much money is at stake. So let’s hope the education policy-makers can find a good tutor and, unlike this standardized test taker/Bull Raker, make some informed choices!