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All the Stuff that Wasn’t in the Christmas Letter

Posted on | December 22, 2015 | Comments Off

In my Christmas letter, volume 54 of the Kerchner Chronicle, I promised readers an extension of the narrative here on the Mindworkers blog.  That was probably a mistake.

Christmas letters are a difficult genre.  They veer from cute to seriously boring, and it’s hard to say anything substantive about family issues—no, no, too much information—religion, politics, economics, anxiety, sickness, or death.  Which is why there are lots of vacation pictures.

There are a few memorable variations.  A friend of my parents used to draw clever cartoons and produce them on blueprint paper.  One particularly foolhardy relative devotes most of his letter saying snarky things about his wife, which he doesn’t believe, or says he doesn’t.  But for the most part there are straightforward narratives about the past year, and particularly about family gatherings and travels.

I thought I might say more.  Forget talking about anxiety.  We’re not Kerchners, not the Kardashians.  Living in full public view holds little appeal.  And we’re not going much into family revelations, not that there are many.  I write about politics every day in ‘On California.’

So, like other folks, I’m back to exploring the year; reliving some of the best parts of it and sharing some pictures with you.

For a little fun, read the Red Sock Caper below.

Something Completely Different: The Red Sock Caper

Posted on | September 22, 2015 | Comments Off

What kind of animal would return a sock?Just when your eyes were beginning to cross reading ed policy verbiage,  I offer the mystery of the Red Sock.

The red sock disappeared.  Leanne had given me a very comfy pair of bright red socks that I wore when I was feeling reckless, wanting to make a fashion statement, or to put out flares that I wasn’t to be messed with.

Thus, the socks were worn with some frequency, and they looked great with jeans and loafers.

But socks get dirty, and these were wool, so were dried outside.  When last seen they were draped over a chair in the back yard.

When Leanne went to collect the dry socks, she only found one.  The wind must have moved it, we thought, but inspection of the patio, the flowerbeds, the fishpond proved futile.  Something took the sock, and we speculated whether it was an old crow, a young possum, or maybe Mischief the across-the-street cat.

The caper of the disappearing sock, we thought.

But Saturday morning the sock reappeared, artfully draped over the back steps, gnawed and mangled, but returned, leading to the greater mystery: the caper of the reappearing sock.  What kind of animal returns a sock?

Speculation is running toward a socialist possum, which took what he needed and returned the rest, or maybe a playful raccoon, which tired of soccer (socker?) and discarded the toy where it was found.

Again, No ‘Genius’ Grant

Posted on | September 30, 2014 | Comments Off

The postal service lost the letter.  Again!  I even delayed my vacation to be waiting by the mailbox for the trusted Michael the mailman to deliver the good news that I had been selected for a MacArthur “genius” fellowship.  But nothing.

The announcement on September 17 that 21 new Fellows had been picked, and I was not among them, came as another blow to my fragile ego.  But what a deal it would be:

Fellows will each receive a no-strings-attached stipend of $625,000, paid out over five years. The Fellowship comes with no stipulations or reporting requirements, and allows recipients maximum freedom to follow their own creative visions.

But in truth, these sound like some folks that I’d like to have lunch with.


Genius travels.  Talented people congregate because being in the company of other energetic and driven people multiplies their own disciplined gifts.  And when they travel, they come to California.

A foundation press release notes, “Comparing birthplace to location at the time of the award, the most popular destination state for Fellows was California, followed by New York.  For example, 2009 Fellow Camille Utterback, born in Indiana, and 2008 Fellow Walter Kitundu, born in Minnesota – both artists – lived in San Francisco at the time of the award.”

Then, as a sobering aside to the self-limiting costs of aggregation, it notes that adjusted for size the states with the most resident MacArthur fellows are New Mexico, Alaska, and Vermont.

I’ve Been Away and Didn’t Tell You

Posted on | September 2, 2014 | Comments Off

I’m sorry.  I’ve been away for a while and didn’t tell you.  Writing the ‘On California’ blog at EdWeek.org has become such a full time job—my wife Leanne thinks it is an obsession—that I’ve had little leftover time for Mindworkers.

Also, given that I have another outlet for educational policy writing, I need to rethink what to do with this space, and that’s a work in process.

Just to reflect, in many ways ‘On California’ is the project I was built to undertake.  It’s the newspaper column I never had.  It’s a way to combine my early training and instincts for writing with four decades of social science.

In another way, though, it is tough work for an old guy, and there are days that I think that something more contemplative would be better for my soul.

I promise I will come back soon.  As soon as I figure out what to say.

Interviews with Tom Torlakson and Marshall Tuck

Posted on | May 27, 2014 | Comments Off

I interviewed State Superintendent Tom Torlakson and his challenger in the June 3 primary Marshall Tuck.  Excerpts from those interviews are posted at ‘On California.’  The full text transcriptions are available by clicking: Torlakson or Tuck.

BTW: ‘On California’ is off to a good start.  Nearly 3,000 visitors in the first month, and we are still getting the word out.

Note: The interviews with Torlakson and Tuck have been removed.  They were targets of spammers and bogus comments.  The transcripts are available by emailing me./ ctk



A Small Tribute to a Fallen Photographer

Posted on | April 4, 2014 | Comments Off

I weep for fallen journalists, particularly photographers who put themselves in harm’s way to tell us stories that we find inconvenient.

I never met Anja Niedringhaus, the Associated Press photographer who was intentionally shot by Afghan police officer on Friday, but I cry for her nonetheless.  Reporting war is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.  According to one count, 16 journalists have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001, twice the number that died in World War II.  We don’t have flags and special ceremonies for these fallen, so those of us who write and photograph should at least pause.

Take a moment and look at her images courtesy of the Atlantic blog In Focus.

Then ask yourself, why are we there?  Who are we helping?


‘On California’ Launches at EdWeek.org

Posted on | March 25, 2014 | Comments Off

On CA logo

Beginning today, Education Week is launching a new blog about the Golden State, which I will be conducting, one hopes with the help of a few friends.  The first pieces are up at http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/on_california/

Go, look, comment.

Soon, I will write a piece about why I am doing this, which will be posted on the EdWeek site.

‘California The Great Exception’ at Education Week

Posted on | March 3, 2014 | Comments Off

Education Week has published an opinion piece about California that I think sets the tone for substantive discussions about the direction of public education in the United States.  The state, pointedly, is not following Arne Duncan’s lead, but it is not following Diane Ravitch either.  It’s headed in a third, or is it a fourth, way.  In any case, please read and comment.  There will be more coming along from EdWeek.  Stay tuned for an announcement.

‘On the Road’ with the Common Core

Posted on | February 21, 2014 | Comments Off

Charter Oak Superintendent Mike Hendricks and Assistant Superintendent Jeanine Robertson

Charter Oak Superintendent Mike Hendricks and Assistant Superintendent Jeanine Robertson

I’m headed out on what I am calling the Common Core Road Trip, to see what schools in California are doing with the prescription to teach to “fewer and deeper” standards.  Over the next weeks and months, I’ll be traveling the state, and telling the stories of how the 30,000-foot glossy promises of increased student engagement and substantive learning look at ground level.

As reported earlier, I am following the efforts of the Associated Pomona Teachers and the Pomona Unified School District to use interactions about the Common Core as a way to hit the reset button in labor-management relations.  More about them later.

This week, my first stop was in Charter Oak, a 5,700-student unified school district in Covina, where Jeanine Robertson taught for 31 years and  was the teacher union president before becoming a principal and then assistant superintendent for instruction.

On Thursday, She and I visited three Charter Oak schools, saw students working on the new standards, and talked to them, their teachers, and school administrators about what it takes to transfer from a world driven by “factoids” to one that asks students to explain why and how they took a particular pathway to solving math problem or to understanding a story or text.

Much more will follow here and in a new space that will be opening in a few weeks.

The DMV and Expensive French Shoes: Who Treads Better?

Posted on | February 16, 2014 | Comments Off

Repaired shoes

Repaired shoes with tag showing that they were received on August 8, and newspaper from the date they were returned, November 22.

I’ve had a close encounter with the California DMV.  The dreaded Division of Motor Vehicles required that I take the exam before it would renew my driver’s license.  Since I had not taken the written driver’s test for nearly 40 years, the experience filled me with much trepidation, and put me in a room with many 15-18 year olds.

The DMV computer was having a bad network day, and not everything was going smoothly: the lines were long, and I was prepared to grumble about government incompetence.  But surprise: the DMV folks were actually nice, well informed, and helpful.  They circulated among the people waiting, asking what they had come in for, passing out the proper forms, and giving folks clipboards to write on.  Service with a smile, mostly, continued throughout the process.  Despite the computer problems, I was fingerprinted, eye examined, tested, photographed, and out the door in 75 minutes.

Not bad for government work, I thought.  And I contrasted this with the service I’d received recently from the maker of expensive French shoes.  Over the years, I’ve purchased several pairs of pricey Mephisto shoes.  They fit my feet, wear well, and they can be rebuilt to last for decades.  I still wear a pair I bought in 1991.

Last summer I noticed that the soles on a pair of old favorites were wearing out, and so I sent them to the company’s repair service in San Diego, which advertises that the turnaround time would be about four weeks, which seems plenty long enough.

The shoes I sent on August 1 were returned on November 22, 16 weeks including shipping.  The proffered reason was that needed materials had to be shipped from France.  Gee, they’re French shoes; that would be where the repair materials might come from, and—last I knew—cargo planes from Paris landed in California every day.  These soles must have been on a container ship that traversed the Panama Canal.

Mephisto didn’t offer even a hint of an apology much less a refund or reduction price for its lousy service, which in retrospect left me thinking, I’d rather deal with that most dread agency of government, the DMV.  So, when I pass the fancy French shoe rack in the future, I’ll keep on walking.

(BTW: read the manual and take the practice tests.  It’s fun to pass with flying colors while the youngsters struggle.)

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