Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Public Education and Politics

Michelle Rhee, D.C. School Chancellor, will resign from her post tomorrow. Breaking news, yes, but expected: her tenure as the no-nonsense head in the struggling school system has been the subject of endless controversy, praise, and, in part, a new documentary on the failings of U.S. education. I first learned of Rhee’s uncompromising expectations from a long profile in Time; in her public appearances, she comes off as both fearless and resigned. Seems like the D.C. public schools are losing one of their great leaders.

How do we–all of us, not just those with kids in schools or kids in “good” schools–care for our ailing public school system? How do we remove politics–tying property values to school funding, resources to test scores, school leadership to local elections–and put the students first?

I was a kid who went to public schools. In Iowa, there never struck me as much of a disparity between the public and the parochial or prep schools. Some part of me knew that the private school kids had more homework and better college-prep, but even at that young age, when my mother asked me if I wanted to attend the local Catholic secondary school, I mulled it over and said no. The immature kid in me just didn’t want to leave my friends; looking back now, I wonder if I made that decision partly out of fear of higher expectations in a school that seemed, from the outside, more rigorous, more academically-intimidating, and less the slacker atmosphere I knew at my public high school.

 

Kandice Washington, a University of Chicago Charter School teacher, works with her students. The UEI will refine and expand its successful teacher preparation program with an $11.6 million ARRA grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

 

I’m no education scholar but I often wonder about our public system in the U.S. It’s a trickle-up theory, no? If we begin educating our children with low expectations in high school, fast-tracking one student to college-prep while sending another on an alternate, more labor-oriented program of study, how do we divide instead of pool our human resources? Doesn’t our nation suffer from this two-track system as a whole?

All to say that my suburban education system was flawed and yet, pretty good. I’m ambivalent in retrospect. But ultimately I have this luxury of retrospect. I received a strong K-12 education, an even stronger undergraduate experience, and the necessary training and flourishing of the mind as a post-graduate. In my urban neighborhood in Boston, I sometimes ask myself if the kids on my street have the same kind of excellence in teachers, funding, and leadership.

I don’t know the answer.

Filed under: education, intelligence, iowa, politics, united states of america, , , , , , , , ,

Colbert satirizes anti-gay commercial

22348_topnews_colbert469Stephen Colbert satirizes the anti-gay marriage ad by the National Organization for Marriage. As he puts it, the ad is “like watching The 700 Club and The Weather Channel at the same time.”

One of my favorite lines from Colbert–on Iowa’s sanction of gay marriage and its domino effect to New York’s gay marriage legislation introduced by Gov. Paterson: “The same-sex chickens have come home to gentrify their roost.”

Filed under: entertainment, gay rights, iowa, , ,

Des Moines Tries

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Cutting-edge photography at the Des Moines Art Center. Yesterday's visit included seeing recent acquisitions like Wolfgang Tillmans and Chuck Close.

In my other life, I graduated from Drake University with a theater or journalism degree. I interned at the Des Moines Community Playhouse or wrote captions for The Des Moines Register. Made friends here, spent lots of time with siblings here in the Midwest. I lived in a shitty apartment on Ingersoll Avenue near the Alpine Bar and wrote many failed novels (this part is true). I drank in Des Moines.

Reality: Eighteen years ago, I made the decision to move to the East Coast to attend Boston University, never looking back. So it’s always a strange feeling to imagine what my life might have been if I stayed close to home.

I’m writing this post from a hip coffeehouse called Mars Cafe, with Neutral Milk Hotel playing on the loudspeakers and kids with big bolt earrings and tight pants working as baristas behind the counter. Musicians by night? Web designers? In Des Moines, you never know.

I have to admit, I like Des Moines. On my list of must-do’s in this sleepy little city:

1. The Des Moines Art Center.

Never manages to disappoint. And the curators have subversive taste (more for me to enjoy), running to Kara Walker and her no-nonsense cut-outs that challenge notions of male superiority and African American identity, or Wolfgang Tillmans, whose photographs elevate punks and queers to the level of the Mona Lisa and David.

2. The Salvation Army.

I always find the best stuff at The Salvation Army. The main store is located at the base of the capitol building; this year, I found a pair of super-cool camouflage pants for a couple bucks. In past years, I’ve scored a set of highball mugs with  Freemason logos; 50’s-style tins for flour, sugar, and coffee; and a Boy Scouts t-shirt with Des Moines patches sewn onto the sleeves.

3. Smash.

Brought my friend Dan here last year, and he bought three shirts, including one that reads, “Des Moines: Just Outside the Middle of Nowhere.”

4. ZZZ Records.

Witt and I discovered that they moved this year–he thinks because they were priced out of the East Village–but this place is an institution, no matter where the location (as long as they keep their physical location!–don’t let the economy kill the indie record stores, yo).

5. Tasty Tacos.

I don’t know how to truly express my love for their flour tacos. Light, fluffy, deep-fried goodness. Only in Des Moines.

Filed under: iowa, travel, , , , ,

Writing

BIOGRAPHY

RECENT PUBLICATIONS
» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
March 2017
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Pics from Africa 2010

No food for lazy man

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Commemorating the great pan-African writer

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Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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