Friday, October 31, 2014

Socrates: Applying His Teaching Method Today

Today, NPR Ed kicks off a yearlong series: 50 Great Teachers.
We're starting this celebration of teaching with Socrates, the superstar teacher of the ancient world. He was sentenced to death more than 2,400 years ago for "impiety" and "corrupting" the minds of the youth of Athens.
But Socrates' ideas helped form the foundation of Western philosophy and the scientific method of inquiry. And his question-and-dialogue-based teaching style lives on in many classrooms as the Socratic method.
I went to Oakland Technical High School in California to see it in action.
It's the first period of the morning, and student Annelise Eeckman is sparring with teacher Maryann Wolfe about Social Security. They get into the roller-coaster nature of the U.S. stock market and the question of what role the market should play, if any, in workers' retirement plans.
"It's not influencing me," Wolfe says.
"You're not retired currently," Eeckman counters.
"But I have stock," Wolfe says. "You know what happened Thursday and Friday, right? Friday it started going back up again; yesterday it went up a little bit more."
"And what if tomorrow it dips?" Eeckman says.
"Well, yeah, but you depend on one day?"
In this 12th-grade Advanced Placement American government class, students are not just encouraged, they're expected to question the teacher — and each other.
That's at the heart of the Socratic method that's come down to us from the streets of Athens: dialogue-based critical inquiry. The goal here is to focus on the text, ideas and facts — not just opinions — and to dig deeper through discussion.
Maryann Wolfe leads her AP American government class at Oakland Technical High School in a discussion about the history of third parties in American politics.
Maryann Wolfe leads her AP American government class at Oakland Technical High School in a discussion about the history of third parties in American politics.
Elissa Nadworny/NPR
On this particular morning, students are tackling the history of third parties in American politics. They're poring over the platforms of past candidates, including Ross Perot, Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan.
"I'm just trying to figure out what the Republicans must be thinking, what Pat Buchanan must be thinking," says Wolfe as she leans on her lectern.
"Well, if we look at the group of people that the Republicans tend to focus their opinions on, they're usually of the more wealthy classes," one student says.
Senior Jonah Oderberg confidently pushes back on the idea of school vouchers, which Wolfe is defending.
"If you have that high-enough income to afford that private education," says Oderberg, "that should be coming out of your own pocket. There's already adequate public schools."
"So you want me to pay double?" asks Wolfe, smiling as she walks closer to Oderberg's desk in the back of the room.
"Um, no," Oderberg says. The class laughs.
"Sounds like it," Wolfe counters and turns back to the front of the class.
'The Complexity Of The Issues'
This is good classroom jousting.
OK, one student is falling asleep.
But everyone else is wide awake and into the discussion.
"I think the Socratic method means that you're going to have a whole bunch of ideas floating to the surface," says Wolfe, who helped build this school's Socratic seminar program, which is part of a national Paideia program that encourages the Socratic method.
"I want them to see the complexity of the issues. I believe the students really learn that way. Because they have to speak, they have to be engaged in what we're trying to learn."
For Wolfe, the Socratic method at its core means getting students to actually listen to each other and to differing opinions. It's been her main teaching tool during her nearly three decades in the classroom.
"Maybe we won't find exact truths in this class," she says. "But we will at least look at all possibilities, and they will have a truth right at that moment. And the moment comes when they have to stand up and debate it, when they have to write an essay about it. They have to take a side."
As part of the class, Wolfe requires students to get involved with a local political campaign, ballot measure or issue. Senior Sierra Robbins is volunteering for a local effort to boost the minimum wage, which she says has changed her views about the power of civic engagement and the role of government.
"It felt so distant and too big to be changed," Robbins says. "And I went out and talked to people, and it felt really different. It felt like you could really do something."
'Critical Dialogue'
Socrates didn't write anything down. And details of his life remain largely unknown. Many of his ideas, and much of his life as a teacher and philosopher, are known largely through the writings of his best student, Plato, in his Dialogues.
But we do know that Socrates — the man and myth — valued reasoned, logical oral arguments that sought truth through probing discourse.
Today you can call Wolfe's Oakland classes Socratic. But maybe this is just what good teaching looks like: an engaged, passionate teacher facilitating a critical dialogue and acting as a kind of intellectual coach. Not a teacher merely lecturing or teaching to a test.
I asked 17-year-old Maddie Ahlers what she's gotten out of the program.
"I think that the Socratic method has to be a part of good teaching, because it's one thing to write an essay or be able to take a test," Ahlers says. "But later in life, you're gonna have to be able to articulate your own views and say verbally what you think about an issue or anything you believe."
Black Pine Circle
At Oakland Tech, Socrates lives on mainly in its AP classes and seminars. At some other schools, he is literally everywhere.
At Black Pine Circle, a private school in Berkeley, Socrates' stenciled face peers out at students from many of the walls and hallways.
"Now remember, in the inner circle we don't need to raise hands," sixth- and seventh-grade teacher Tim Ogburn tells his students. "Let's just try to have a conversation. Outer circle for right now, I just want you guys listening."
Seventh-grade students respond to teacher Tim Ogburn's questions about a Japanese creation myth. Their school, Black Pine Circle, in Berkeley, Calif., follows the Socratic method.
Seventh-grade students respond to teacher Tim Ogburn's questions about a Japanese creation myth. Their school, Black Pine Circle, in Berkeley, Calif., follows the Socratic method.
Elissa Nadworny/NPR
Every class is imbued with Socratic style, and the pedagogy includes regular Socratic seminars. (OK, Socrates likely skips gym class.)
"When you hear people tell a story it kind of gives you an idea of who they are," says one seventh-grader in Ogburn's class. Students sit in semicircular rows discussing a Japanese creation myth. One circle is tasked with talking while another is supposed to just listen — and think.
Ogburn is trying to get students to look beyond the basics: that the myth was part of a pre-scientific society trying to explain the world.
"So, inner circle, tell me: How is this story about balance?"
When done right, Ogburn says, he is facilitating a real dialogue. It's a method he hopes his students can use to approach lifelong learning as well as life itself.
"The Socratic method forces us to take a step back from that and ask questions like: What's going on here? What does this possibly mean?" Ogburn says. "What's important? What's less important? What might be motivating this person to say this?"
Head of School John Carlstroem agrees. "What we're trying to teach kids is to ask the question, 'What makes you say that?' " he says.
"I think that the best scientists and mathematicians — that's the question they're asking in all of their work: 'What makes us say that? What gives us this idea?' "
In the eighth grade, students are expected to take charge. In English class, teacher Chris Chun sits to the side and largely stays quiet while eighth-grader Alexander Blau leads a small-group discussion on George Orwell's classic dystopian novel, Animal Farm.
Another group silently listens while a third group will offer critical feedback.
"Does anybody here know what 'beatifically' means, and could you guess it based on the context?" Blau asks the group. "Tommy, do you think you have an idea?"
After the discussion, teacher Chun asks the class how they did. The other students comment on the discussion. One student suggests Blau shouldn't have let another student, David, take over as the leader. Then the groups switch, and another student-led discussion begins.
"We really remind our teachers that what we're trying to get at is the process of learning for learning's sake," Carlstroem says. "Let's not make this all about learning to gain information but to learn how to learn. I think that's when the democratic process comes through in all this."
Start 'Em Young
At this K-8 school, it's never too early to start a Socratic seminar. Black Pine Circle's kindergartners start with a Question of the Day. On the day I visited, first-graders were doing basic addition — as a group — using dominoes.
First-graders at Black Pine Circle School in Berkeley, Calif., learn basic addition using dominoes.
First-graders at Black Pine Circle School in Berkeley, Calif., learn basic addition using dominoes.
Elissa Nadworny/NPR
"I think of it as the teacher doesn't have the one true answer; the class constructs knowledge together," says first-grade teacher Leila Sinclaire. "They need to learn how to listen to one another and learn from one another and celebrate mistakes. I don't explain things by saying, 'This is what we're doing and this is why.' I ask them: 'What are you interested in and how can we explore that together?' " Sinclaire says.
Carlstroem says young children respond well to this style of teaching.
"Five-, 6- and 7-year-olds are so naturally curious that in many ways they may be the most naturally Socratic," he says. "Those of us who have had 3-year-olds know that that's a part of what that is when they say, 'Why? Why? Why?' all the time."
Some scholars argue that Socrates was being ironic and playful when he said that all he knows is that he knows nothing. His call for intellectual humility was also meant to poke fun at the pretensions of Athenian society. So maybe it's fitting that the Bay Area has a school dedicated to the Socratic method. At times Silicon Valley's 'we're saving the world one app at a time' ethos could perhaps use a dose of Socratic humility.
Scholars today are still trying to parse what's truly Socratic from Plato's idealized accounts. Was the great teacher mainly a creation of his student?
Maybe it doesn't matter.
"Would we still do it if it was called Frodo's practice?" asks Head of School John Carlstroem. "My answer is yes, because the proof is in the pudding. When we look at what happens in a Socratic classroom and how it works — it's amazing. I think the reason we call it Socratic practice is because, like a lot of things, we're working at it."
They're practicing and refining the techniques of critical thinking all the time, he says. It's a process that's never really finished.

Ebola Survivors Move To The Forefront Of West African Clinical Care

"Ebola survivors' blood could be used to treat patients, says WHO doctor"


In Liberia, Ebola Survivors Find They Have Superpowers

Second in a series.
Dr. Darin PortnoyPhotograph by Malin LagerDr. Darin Portnoy
Yesterday, Dr. Darin Portnoy, a family physician from the Bronx, completed his first rounds—60 patients, five of them children—in an Ebola ward of a treatment center in Paynesville, about 250 miles southeast of Monrovia, Liberia. He’s been impressed from the start by the efficiency of the clinic, but what struck him the most was watching as an Ebola survivor, a man he describes as looking a little like Mike Tyson, scooped up an 11-year-old boy in the infectious stages of the disease, carried him to a washbasin, and gave him a sponge bath, before carefully returning him to his cot.
Survivors, Portnoy says, are playing an increasing role in caring for the sick and the effort outside the wards to halt the epidemic. Ebola survivors are immune to the virus for as long as three months. This means they can risk getting close to those with symptoms, and even touch them—something that’s especially helpful with children, a number of whom are separated from their families. “It’s kind of like a superpower,” Portnoy says of the survivor’s immunity. “Even those who are not fully recovered, but that you can tell are going to clear the virus, they’ll help other patients before they’ve finished convalescing,” he adds.
This is Week One of Portnoy’s four-week stint at ELWA3, an Ebola treatment center with 250 beds in Paynesville. ELWA3 is operated by Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders, the privately funded relief organization often known simply as MSF. The center’s staff totals around 700, about 100 of whom are from outside West Africa. MSF has similar, smaller facilities in the neighboring countries of Sierra Leone and Guinea, where Ebola remains out of control.
Photograph by Malin Lager
Portnoy has just arrived as a volunteer. On his rounds, he isn’t working solo, of course. A nurse and sanitation aide, also suited head-to-toe in personal protection equipment (PPE), accompany him; assistants are available, as well, to help clean patients and disinfect around them. “I had a couple of dry runs, where we put on the PPEs, took off the PPEs,” the 52-year-old doctor says. “Then I did one round where I only spoke to patients.”
There is no cure for Ebola, but Portnoy provides his patients with anti-malaria and anti-nausea medicines, generic Tylenol and antibiotics, and hydration salts. Severe dehydration is the underlying, grave danger with hemorrhagic fevers. “Sometimes we prescribe morphine, too,” he says. “It can be very painful.”
Via phone, Portnoy confirmed the press reports and World Health Organizationfigures showing that, for the first time in weeks, there are fewer new cases of Ebola in Liberia. At ELWA3, empty beds outnumber the patients, and only about 80 to 85 confirmed cases remain. Did this decline strike those who’d been there all summer as cause for optimism that there won’t be, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned, as many as 5,000 new cases a week by January?
Photograph by Malin Lager
“It would be great to think so. It’s the best news,” Portnoy says, but no one at ELWA3 believes it’s over yet. “For us, it’s more a chance to prepare, build capacity, train as many people as we can, and be ready.” To hear him tell it, ELWA3 is becoming the world’s first Ebola-treatment teaching hospital.
The reason it was too soon to declare victory, he says, is that “a lot of things that should be working are not. Contact tracing”—tracking those who may have been exposed—“is not working. The ambulances are not functioning. It’s hard to tell if safe burial practices are really being observed. So we are keeping an eye on it and staying vigilant.”
As for the survivors, getting clear of the virus is just part of a long journey.
“Some [survivors] want to return to their communities kind of anonymously, because there’s still a lot of stigma,” says Athena Viscusi, a New Yorker who ran the mental health intervention center at ELWA3 until last week. (MSF mental health workers provide grief counseling to families and help to caregivers, too, as the work is often traumatic.) “Usually, though, Ebola’s affected several members of the family, and the neighbors know there’s been an infection in the house, so they can’t return quietly,” Viscusi says. “And they find they’re more comfortable coming back to the Ebola centers, because we’re very welcoming of them.” MSF hires some of these returning survivors to work with patients.
Of the man who helped the child, says Portnoy: “You know you hear about things like that, but when you see it—that whatever someone is going through, their humanity remains intact. It’s magnificent.”
Wieners (@bradwieners) is an executive editor for Bloomberg Businessweek.

Correct Me If I'm Wrong But I Don't Think Democrats Wallow In This Sort Of Slime

Devious slime buckets.
Not only is it permissible to win by cheating. 
It's admirable.
Similarly, arguments are deemed winnable by clamor, 
not Reason and Truth.


Pax On Both Houses: Compendium Of Voter Fraud And Voter Suppression Posts


Grimes campaign sues state GOP over mailings

October 31, 2014

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes' Senate campaign has filed a lawsuit accusing the Kentucky Republican Partyof sending flyers aimed at suppressing voter turnout Tuesday.
The suit filed Friday in Franklin Circuit Court requests an injunction to block further distribution of the flyers.
Grimes' campaign says it will ask authorities to investigate whether the flyers circulated in several counties violated Kentucky and federal laws.
The mailer is labeled as an "Election Violation Notice" and warns recipients they're at risk of "acting on fraudulent information." It says Grimes has tried to deceive voters in her campaign to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Grimes campaign manager Jonathan Hurst calls it an attempt to keep people away from the polls.
State GOP spokeswoman Kelsey Cooper says the flyers hold Grimes accountable for her "blatant falsehoods."

Blind Ultra-Marathoner Running From Boston To NYC Before Competing In Marathon

Meet the blind ultra-marathoner who’s running from Boston to New York before competing in the TCS New York City Marathon this Sunday. How’s that for inspiration?

Why fly or drive from Boston to New York City when you can run? That was long-distance runner Simon Wheatcroft’s thinking when planning his journey from one city to the other. He’s been blessed with two working legs and he was going to use them.
The reason this Doncaster, England, native is running to NYC in the first place is to participate in the TCS New York City Marathon this Sunday. He will run about 220 miles through four states over the course of nine days before winding down with a nice 26.2-mile stroll through New York City. But he’s not worried about accomplishing all of this because running is something he can do with his eyes closed. Literally. Simon Wheatcroft was diagnosed legally blind at the age of 17.
When I was given the opportunity to speak with Wheatcroft, I thought it’d be a conversation consisting of a sad story peppered with inspirational quotes—understandably so—but within a minute of the interview, I realized Wheatcroft does not view his life as a made-for-TV movie. He talked about his training as if he were talking about the weather; he has no idea how impressive he is, which just makes him more impressive.
Wheatcroft was born with a genetic degenerative eye condition, retinitis pigmentosa, and now at the age of 32 his vision has almost completely deteriorated, leaving him unable to see the road in front of him. But that hasn’t stopped him from running on it. In fact, his loss of vision is what made him run in the first place.
“I wasn’t a runner before I lost my vision, and I probably never would have started running if I didn’t lose it,” Wheatcroft casually told me. “Once I lost my vision, I had to rethink my career and with that, career change; I went back to school and found myself with more time on my hands.”
Getting frustrated with his constraints and bored with his limited lifestyle, he decided to put on some sneakers and see if he could run. And he could. “Running gave me a sense of independence because while there are many parts of my life where I have to rely on others, running is something I can actually do alone.”


Seven months after he started running, he was ready for his first race. As he was already running long distances at that point, he felt like a marathon wouldn’t be enough of a challenge, so he signed up for an ultramarathon and completed 83 miles. No big deal.
“I don’t think it’s any more difficult for me physically because I’m blind,” he said, “it’s just putting one foot in front of the other over and over again so fitness-wise, I’m on the same playing field as everyone else.”
OK, that makes sense, but how does he avoid injury and track his run if he can’t watch where he’s going? Wheatcroft uses the app RunKeeper, which reads aloud distance and pace information. When he first used the app to run one particular route, he noticed that he recognized the feel of each step, and with that he memorized his first run. Think about it: If you wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, you can successfully walk there in the dark because you know your route that well. It was the same for Wheatcroft. However, becoming familiar with any route doesn’t happen overnight and it took Wheatcroft a long time to memorize just three miles. Unfortunately, he does not have the time to memorize every course he wants to run, so for longer distances he relies on running guides.
A seasoned ultramarathoner like Wheatcroft is pretty much always marathon-ready (aren’t we all?). But since this will be the longest distance he’s ever run in a multi-day race, he spent 15 weeks training specifically for his Boston-to-New York adventure. “I’d run back-to-back half marathons, five to six days a week,” he explained. Throughout this trip, he’s been running around 25 miles per day, and tweeting his route out to his followers beforehand to see if any locals want to come out and guide him for a bit. “It’s incredible the kindness of strangers,” he said. “All I have to do to get guides is tweet, and they show up.” The best guides he’s had so far were the members of a high-school track team. “They were so excited to be there, and then the entire school came out to cheer,” he shares. “It’s moments like that which make this adventure so memorable. I can run another race, but I will never get another moment like that.”
While running does give him a sense of independence, it’s not why he runs long-distance races. He likes the company. “How often do you get six or seven hours a day to just run and chat with new friends?” he said. Not often, Simon, not often at all. “I don’t run to send one big inspiring message, I just want to meet lots of people and share moments in their lives,” he expresses, humbly unaware of the impact he has on everyone he comes into contact with. It doesn’t surprise us that he’s chosen to also rely on the kindness of strangers to get some rest every night – come on, you didn’t think he was running nine days straight, did you?! He’s using Airbnb to secure housing in every town he’s stopping in because he loves meeting locals and getting an insider experience in the towns he’s running through.(Disclosure note: Airbnb facilitated the interview between the author of this piece and Simon Wheatcroft).
In fact, one of the reasons he wants to run the New York City Marathon is to be amongst people who have similar interests. He plans to make new friends and share his story with anyone who will listen. I have a feeling he’ll have a captive audience. “I don’t run to send one big inspiring message,” he told me. “I just want to meet lots of people and share moments in their lives.”

GOP Treatment Of Obamacare Will Reveal Its Inescapable Commitment To Disaster

Nothing but an "individual mandate" (or single payer healthcare) circumvents denial-of-care for a pre-existing condition.

So a GOP Senate majority will target Obamacare? Uh, okay.

 October 31, 2014 

Obamacare is back in the news again. Mitch McConnell is now claiming a GOP Senate majority will use the tool known as “reconciliation” to target the health law with simple majority votes. McConnell had previously suggested he wouldn’t go that route, sparking conservative cries of “surrender” that forced him to reverse course. Which makes this a preview of what to expect when conservatives demand maximum confrontation from the new GOP majority.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court today is privately deliberating whether to hear a major court challenge to the law’s subsidies. Jonathan Cohn has everything you need to know about how likely that is to happen, and as he points out, the courts are more likely to do real damage to the law than anything the Senate does.
But even if Obama will veto anything a GOP Senate passes, it does look like a new GOP majority will try to go after the law. To be sure, it’s always possible this is just Mitch McConnell blustering to the base. But even so, conservatives will claim the GOP won all because the public rose up en mass against Obummercare, and will exert intense pressure on the new majority to keep up the repeal crusade until the end of time. That won’t be at all what the elections mean, but there will be a tremendous push to sell this interpretation. Indeed, the war over the meaning of the elections will feed into how far a new GOP Senate majority will go against Obamacare.
One former longtime Senate parliamentarian said a majority leader could make a persuasive case for using reconciliation to repeal core components of Obamacare, many of which have budgetary impacts. That includes the premium tax credits that help lower-income Americans buy insurance. It might even include the individual mandate, given that the Congressional Budget Office has said scrapping the mandate would save money…
That sets up tension between the GOP’s establishment wing and the tea party wing…The big question is how far Republican leaders are willing to go, and whether they find the votes in the Senate and House to pass an anti-Obamacare bill and put it on Obama’s desk.
There will probably also be other varieties of repeal votes, too. So here’s my question: Is this really something that Republican Senators who are up for reelection in 2016 in blue and purple states are going to want?
With just days to go before voters cast their ballots in the high stakes midterm elections, control of the Senate hangs on just a few states, and the GOP is feeling optimistic that both houses of Congress may soon be back under its control. (AP)
The Senate map is dramatically different next cycle than it was this time. AsEd Kilgore notes, in 2016, Republicans are defending far more seats than Democrats are, in a number of states Obama won twice.
“Voting to repeal Obamacare outright, without a replacement, is a vote that a lot of Republicans who are up for reelection in states carried by Obama will not want to take,” Jennifer Duffy, who tracks Senate races for the Cook Political Report, tells me. “They will fight having to take it. In some of these states, Obamacare has been successful, and the longer it’s in place, the more they’ll work the kinks out.”
Duffy cited as examples Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, Rob Portman in Ohio, and Mark Kirk in Illinois. There’s also Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania.
Even now, in a national environment that heavily favors Republicans, the politics of Obamacare are already murky for Republicans. In New Hampshire, Senate candidate Scott Brown resorts to all sorts of rhetorical buffoonery to avoid saying what would happen to all those benefiting from the law there. The Medicaid expansion is moving forward in New Hampshire, and also in Ohio, where Governor John Kasich (who embraced the expansion) recently admitted the law is helping a lot of people. In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Corbett finally agreed to implement the state’s version of the Medicaid expansion (though he’s still toast for reelection), which means untold numbers there will be covered soon enough.
Even in southern states, amid a midterm electorate, Republicans like Mitch McConnell in Kentucky and Tom Cotton in Arkansas have fudged and evaded endlessly on whether they would really take the law’s benefits away from their state’s residents. Next year we’ll be talking about blue and purple states amid a presidential year electorate. So, yes, maybe the new GOP Senate majority will keep up the repeal crusade. How that goes over with Republican Senators in those states will tell us something about how the politics of Obamacare will really be playing nationally as we head into the next elections.
UPDATE: To be clear, if Republicans do targeted votes aimed at unpopular provisions of the law, such as the individual mandate, that could put some Democrats in a tough spot. (Obama would veto anything that seriously threatens the law.) But conservatives will presumably want the push for full repeal to continue, and votes for full repeal or votes targeting the coverage expansion might be tough for some Republicans up in 2016.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.