Teachers not full-time employees?

The Majesty of the Law, 2012

Someone who should know, not just a random guy bloviating in the coffee shop, told me teachers are not full-time employees under Obamacare, and so the school district we were discussing had fewer than fifty full-time employees, et cetera. Of course, the teachers will continue to have health insurance in their contracts. And of course, if it does become an issue a Judge will ultimately decide. But it reinforces Nancy Pelosi’s observation that she had to pass the bill to know what was in it.

I do have some doubts about this. It seems like schoolteachers not being full-time workers is contrary to the understanding of the college administrators who cut the hours of adjunct faculty to put them under twenty-five hours per week to avoid Obamacare. But really, there’s no way to tell for sure.

Lorem ipsum

Now I could trawl through the web and find any number of clear unambiguous statements that public school teachers are full-time employees, or that they are not. I could even read a copy of the actual bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. That would tell me exactly nothing. In America today you might be “legally” part-time even though you work fifty hours a week, or “legally” full-time even though you only work twenty-five hours a week. You might be a full-time employee for the purposes of one law, and unemployed for the purposes of another law. The law could say clearly and unambiguously that teachers are part-time, and the judge could rule that they work full time. What’s “legally” true is whatever the judge says; what’s “legally” true no longer has much connection with reality.

It seems like Congress would find it less painful simply to pass a bill that’s a collection of random words – or letters, if words are too constraining. Title it “An Act for Amelioration of Problems,” and fill it with greeking. The Republicans can say it’s a tax cut for all Americans. The Democrats can say it’s a tax increase on the rich. They can both say it balances the budget and eliminates the deficit. The courts will tell us what we must do to avoid a fine and prison.

In math, the answers are not simply right or wrong.

They can go beyond wrong

I was going to describe some specific errors in students’ work, but it was making me feel bad. If I taught history I’d ask the students when George Washington crossed the Delaware. Most would reply correctly. Some would say August of 1914, because it was on the board incompletely erased. One would say “The Delaware is a mountain in Kansas.”

On the other hand, someone would correctly answer the question about Washington crossing the Delaware, and then writes in the margin, “The unicorn is a mythical beast.” Why? Just in case, apparently.

Without getting into the math, some of the mistakes are so wrong in so many ways it’s hard to know where to begin. They’re like saying the phoenix is the seven-headed dog that guards the Rainbow Bridge to Nirvana.

If we were South Pacific cargo cultists, the smart students, though they thought it was all boring and stupid, would diligently put their coconuts over their ears and shout into the stick to summon the cargo. They’d get their B and move on to bamboo radar operation. One student would put half a coconut on top of his head, arbitrarily discard the other half, wave the stick back and forth, and then ask to borrow my calculator. He’d have to take the class again.

They can be entirely irrelevant

Do most of the cargo cultists think some of it’s kind of dubious, but they go along with the group? I mean, most Christians aren’t very good Christians. Maybe most of John Frum’s followers aren’t really all that into it. They take in a breakfast casserole, or go with the men’s group to help build the new bamboo control tower, but only to be sociable.

Someone told me about the Ku Klux Klan around here back in the day. They were nominal racists, but this was a pretty homogenous area. They were nominally for keeping the county dry, but a man likes a drink once in a while. They were nominally anti-Catholic, but, you know, live and let live. In other words they weren’t very good Klansmen. By 1978, they were just a handful of old men who would dutifully put on their robes at midnight and sneak into the graveyard for a grave-side rite when one of them died.

If someone had asked them for the quadratic formula, most wouldn’t know, but one old fellow would answer that the square on the hypotenuse is the sum of the squares on the sides. “Cletus always did good in school,” the others would say.


or slower regress anyway

It’s a warm sunny day in late September. Out in the country, windmills are going up at an astonishing rate. Here on the State U campus we’re wasting energy as fast as we can. The boilers are running, the air conditioners are blasting, and we peons without AC have the windows open. At that, I’m lucky to be in an old building with actual working windows.

The radiators are hot because that’s the state of the art in 2010. Just like in grade school forty years ago the boilers come on three weeks early, just in case. They’ll make up for it at Christmas, when they turn off the heat in November, and everyone who has one plugs in a space heater. Never mind the flying car, why can’t they make a thermostat?

It could be worse. Long ago and far away (gotta be vague here…) a need was felt to demonstrate to visiting dignitaries a commitment to green energy. It was a nice breezy day, but the wondrous device designed to extract energy from the pressure gradient was not visibly operating. The powers-that-were commanded, “Make it go!” The engineers complied, turning the device into a giant mechanism to generate motion in the working fluid. The dignitaries, all either drunk, clueless, or cynical, could not have cared less.

There has been progress though. When I was in second grade there was a transom over the door of our classroom. It was operated with an enormous wooden pole that only the teacher was allowed to touch. Finally, this year, I have my own transom. The architects have not yet covered this one with beige particleboard, so I can open whenever I want. And I do.

Tax advice

  1. Don’t take tax advice from sarcastic old men.
  2. If you made less than $250,000 in 2009, don’t pay any more tax than you did last year.
  3. If line 12 is equal to or more than line 11, enter the amount from line 7 on line 13 and go to line 14. If line 12 is less than line 11, divide line 12 by line 11. Enter the result on line 10 as a decimal (rounded to at least three places).
  4. If it’s less-than, divide. Always.

Two short observations

They’re on to me

Speaking in public has always been easy for me, partly because my standards are so low; partly because of a lifelong commitment to hard cardio workouts. But now some changes may be necessary.

“There is one style that always stands out, no matter what. I like to call it the “Scatter-Drone.” That is the presentation that has 50 bullet points scattered on every slide with a long-winded drone of a voice wavering in the air saying something, but nobody really knows what because catatonia has already taken over.” — Doing a 15 Minute Presentation in 10 Easy Steps

That’s just how I do it, except without the PowerPoint.

See, if the audience says “that was boring,” I can dismiss it as uninformed opinion. If they knew anything about the subject, they’d be giving the talk. But now that they have a word for it – “another one of his scatter-drones” – I’ll have to shape up.


A reasonable start

Some community colleges, to save money, have been considering a four-day week. This can work over the summer, but it would be unwise to do it all year. The savings are immediate, while the costs become apparent in the long term.

We could save money in the short term by closing the facility entirely. But the college is here because it meets, or can meet, people’s needs. Fundamentally, we want more people at the college, not fewer. Rather than have the place standing empty three days a week, offer more classes and events to draw people in. This spreads the costs and the benefits over more people, and builds the constituency of voters who support the college because they use it. That’s what I think, anyway.

In The four-day work week, Geeky Mom argues otherwise. She thinks the four-day work week is a good idea badly implemented. I think the fundamental badness of the idea is masked by the hard work and creative implementation of smart, dedicated people.

Ranting begins

There are no points awarded for observing a good idea badly implemented. There are just too many examples. Apollo, coming in to breakfast with the other gods, says “Hey guys, check it out; the humans are at it again.” Mercury says, “Oh? Radical Monotheism again?” “No, communism. Everybody is going to work hard and share, or else.” So, there are ways for a college to have a four-day week that are worse than others, but it’s still a bad idea.

The best way to learn elementary math is one day at a time. Questions on the homework, a short lecture, some example problems, a short homework assignment; that night at home read the book and do the assignment; the next day, ask questions, etc. As the students advance, the material requires more thought and creativity and less of the kind of facility that requires daily practice. Advanced classes work better with a day in between for some sustained thought.

It’s suboptimal to shoehorn elementary algebra into two nights a week, though it can be done if the students and teacher work hard at it, and sometimes it’s that schedule or nothing.

Losing touch with reality

I wonder if we could offer algebra in one continuous block of sixty-four hours. Nine am Monday to one am Thursday. We could rotate staff, lecturing and grading in relays. If we could get other departments to cooperate we could offer concurrent enrollment in history. Students adept at multitasking would listen to the history lecture while doing their algepra problem sets, and take their history tests while listening to the algebra lecture. Students who had difficulty sitting through all that could be evaluated by a physician and given a suitable prescription.