Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Obama's school speech

Great speech. Reminds me a lot of the way Mr Dillon treated his mostly black Remedial Math students way back in 7th grade, probably 1961, as I described here and here.

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Mixing the relevant parts of those texts:

Every Friday in fall, the school football game started in the middle of last period. Most teachers walked their entire class to the stadium, about six blocks away. School wasn't dismissed, though; some teachers kept their classes in, and every student needed parental permission to attend the game. (Maybe there was a good reason for this confused arrangement, but more likely it was just typical woodenheaded school administration. Some things don't change!) On this particular Friday, Pete and I were the only students in Mr Schoening's history class who didn't have permission slips. So Mr Schoening sent us down the hall to spend the hour in Mr Dillon's remedial math class, which was among the few classes remaining in session.

After a while, with nothing better to do, Pete and I started working the math problems along with the class. Two-digit multiplication, as I recall, normally mastered in 5th grade. Pete and I reached the answer in a few seconds, and compared notes audibly: Boy, this one was really easy, wasn't it? Yeah, I don't know why it takes so long for these guys. Chortle, chortle.

Mr Dillon instantly caught on. He threw his chalk to the floor, stormed to the back of the room, yanked both of us out of our seats, and shook us by the shoulders: You miserable smartalecks! What do you think you're doing, making fun of my students?

By the time he tossed us back down, we were nicely deflated.

Back then, everyone knew which kids were dumb and which were smart. Still true now, but we know how to eliminate the difference by using Sensitivity and Self-Esteem to make everyone dumb. Poor benighted Mr Dillon, working before those two concepts were invented, saw his job in a different light. He knew that these remedial kids would only have a chance to achieve something in life if they mastered as much math as they could. And he knew that the only way to get there was by working. What a laughably primitive idea! But those kids, equally unaware of later developments, did in fact work their hearts out for Mr Dillon.

And Mr Dillon also knew that their enthusiasm would not survive a head-on collision with fatalism or cynicism. Those remedials couldn't afford to think "Hey, this stuff is easy for Pete and Dave, why isn't it easy for me?" Nor could they afford "Why bother? Why not just hang around the streets and steal stuff?"

So when Mr Dillon shook the smugness out of our smartass skulls, he wasn't just teaching us that mockery is bad. We knew that anyway, though the reminder was certainly useful. He was mainly trying to save his kids from infection by the mindset of criminality.

Mr Dillon's leadership recipe in short form: Respect, Expect, Protect. He told his kids they could do a good job; he expected them to do a good job; and he protected them against snide wiseasses like Pete and me.

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Obama has struck the same notes: Respect, Expect, Protect.

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Location: Spokane

Polistra was named after the original townsite of Manhattan (the one in Kansas). When I was growing up in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time exploring by foot, bike, and car. I discovered the ruins of an old mill along Wildcat Creek, and decided (inaccurately) that it was the remains of the original site of Polistra. Accurate or not, I've always liked the name, with its echoes of Poland (an under-appreciated friend of freedom) and stars. ==== The title icon is explained here. ==== Switchover: This 2007 entry marks a sharp change in worldview from neocon to pure populist. ===== The long illustrated story of Polistra's Dream is a time-travel fable, attempting to answer the dangerous revision of New Deal history propagated by Amity Shlaes. The Dream has 8 episodes, linked in a chain from the first. This entry explains the Shlaes connection.

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