October 2003 Archives

Or Else...

There is also an �enforcement clause� No Child Left Behind, which follows:
  • A Title I school that has not made adequate yearly progress, as defined by the state, for two consecutive school years will be identified by the district before the beginning of the next school year as needing improvement. School officials will develop a two-year plan to turn around the school. The local education agency will ensure that the school receives needed technical assistance as it develops and implements its improvement plan. Students must be offered the option of transferring to another public school in the district--which may include a public charter school--that has not been identified as needing school improvement.
  • If the school does not make adequate yearly progress for three years, the school remains in school-improvement status, and the district must continue to offer public school choice to all students. In addition, students from low-income families are eligible to receive supplemental educational services, such as tutoring or remedial classes, from a state-approved provider.
  • If the school fails to make adequate progress for four years, the district must implement certain corrective actions to improve the school, such as replacing certain staff or fully implementing a new curriculum, while continuing to offer public school choice and supplemental educational services for low-income students.
  • If a school fails to make adequate yearly progress for a fifth year, the school district must initiate plans for restructuring the school. This may include reopening the school as a charter school, replacing all or most of the school staff or turning over school operations either to the state or to a private company with a demonstrated record of effectiveness.

NCLB: The Framework

At its heart �No Child Left Behind� is about holding American schools accountable for giving each child an equal chance at a good education. No one disagrees with the sentiment. What is debated is precisely what has always been debated in education and what will probably continue to be debated forever. That is, (1) What should our children be taught? (2) What is the best way to teach them? (3) How can we know that the way we�re teaching works? (4) How can we know if we�re teaching the right things? (5) What makes a good teacher? (6) What do teachers need to do their jobs well? (7) How can we make sure our answers to such questions are carried out? John Dewey himself could not concoct a more daunting list. NCLB advances some concrete answers to these philosophical questions:

  1. Children should all be taught the same thing throughout a state, to be determined by the state and set out in a series of �standards� for each subject and grade level that name facts, skills, and even attitudes. Most states have modeled these standards on national prototypes.
  2. Children should only be taught with methods and materials that have been scientifically researched and determined to effectively accomplish the standards.
  3. We can know that education methods work in the same way we can know that medical methods work: data collected in accordance with the scientific method.
  4. A good teacher is an expert in his or her subject matter who has received training in pedagogy.
  5. Teachers need cash incentives and professional development resources to do their jobs well.
  6. The education system can be held accountable by testing every student every year and publishing all the data. Furthermore teachers and administrators will lose their jobs if their students consistently fail to make �adequate yearly progress.� *

There are some other selling points, like parents getting to choose to send their children to another school if it is underperforming and fewer strings on federal grants, but otherwise that�s the gist of it.

* The department of ed web page defines AYP as follows:

�Each state begins by setting a "starting point" that is based on the performance of its lowest-achieving demographic group or of the lowest-achieving schools in the state, whichever is higher. The state then sets the bar--or level of student achievement--that a school must attain after two years in order to continue to show adequate yearly progress. Subsequent thresholds must be raised at least once every three years, until, at the end of 12 years, all students in the state are achieving at the proficient level on state assessments in reading/language arts and math.�

Perspectives on No Child Left Behind

I discovered while talking to Allan at Kristen�s birthday brunch that most of you have never heard of George Bush�s revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that was signed into law last year. There are, so far as I can tell, three different perspectives being consistently offered on the bill instead of the usual two party lines, making good faith examination of claims and evidence a little more complex. The three groups, politicians, educational researchers, and teachers seem almost to be talking about three entirely different agendas. The politicians are talking about money, the amount that has been invested in the past, the results they should be able to expect for it, and the amount they are putting in now. The educational researchers talk about the extraordinary opportunity to finally coordinate the education system under a national framework of standards, curriculum, and assessments. Teachers have been fairly quiet in the public forums on the issue. Many are in favor of the improvements that could come from coordinating education, but they�re not seeing any of the money, and the whole burden of meeting the new standards is on them. It is particularly odd then that they have been so truculent with the media, when it is the number one topic within professional circles. Unfortunately, a group we are hearing even less from is students. I don�t even know what they would have to say.

PBS aired a Frontline documentary called, "Testing Our Schools" that contains extensive interviews, summaries, and links.

Why does it matter?

I imagine that most of you, in that I am as well, are tired of all this Peltier business. After all, it has nothing to do with our current lives. There are a million other situations far more worthy of such deliberation. I have indeed been asking myself 'why the apparent obsession?'

What I have come to is this: there are certain jobs that involve an outstanding moral obligation, amongst them are the legal profession, the military, and education. Though a credential to teach certifies to everyone else that I have met certain standards, I have no guarantee that the system I would become part of has met equal standards, other than those enforced by law. Leonard Peltier symbolizes the most flagrant violation in current memory by "the system" of the laws designed to insure basic moral standards, at least, according to some. It is amongst the first places one might look to find evidence of, or attempt to understand a crystallized instance of systemic injustice. So, in a sense, I have been looking to see if becoming part of the bureaucracy is a fatally naive error. Bizarre as the approach sounds, I think it's a more reasonable choice when considered in light of the incredible regularity with which public education perpetuates social injustice and class structure. It's not such a far cry to see the law doing the same thing, especially to a poor minority, fighting for its rights.

Alas, my Peltier search turned up nothing, and it's taken me this long to figure out what I'm really after. As it turns out, the most hotly debated new piece of education policy is a mandate that all students regardless of ethnicity and social class have equal access to a good education. Teachers are leaving the field in droves, not because they disagree with the sentiment, but because they feel that the methods the policy employs to accomplish that end will undermine everything essential to teaching. So, for the next little while, I will turn my research efforts toward "No Child Left Behind."

Peltier Revisited


Last pub night Sean pointed out that the Leonard Peltier Defense Team may have a stronger argument than I have represented. There is a legal standard, he pointed out called �fruit from a bad tree,� which states that one cannot use evidence gotten illegally and that if, in fact, Peltier was convicted on such evidence, he deserves a fair trial. I had not gone into much depth about the particulars of the FBI�s mis-dealings simply because they were not often relevant to the evidence presented at trial, and I feared boring you further with such minutiae. Nonetheless, criticism from such informed friends is not to be cast aside lightly, so I felt compelled to go back and get my facts straight, to give it another, possibly fairer look.

The biggest loophole, in terms of FBI misconduct is the testimony of the three boys placing Peltier at the agents� cars. All three maintain that they were questioned after they had requested attorneys, and threatened with physical harm before they were given representation. By any reasonable legal standard, such testimony should be excluded, but it was not, at least not completely. Whether or not this is sufficient grounds for a new trial, I don�t know, but I do know that when the Leonard Peltier Defense Council filed for an appeal on the basis of that testimony not being excluded, the court found that there was no evidence that the boys had been induced to lie during the trial (as opposed to during the investigation) and that the jury was instructed sufficiently regarding credibility and impeachment to make up their own minds. The other evidence regarding FBI misconduct had to do with the bogus extradition, which couldn�t be undone, and failure to sufficiently investigate other American Indian deaths on the reservation. Neither of those was relevant to the case against Peltier.

There is also, in the same appeal decision, an account of the circumstantial evidence viewed as most favorable to the government. As the footnote explains, ���The verdict of a jury must be sustained if there is substantial evidence, taking the view most favorable to the Government, to support it.� � Hamling v. United States, 418 U.S. 87, 124, 94 S. Ct. 2887, 2911, 41 L. Ed. 2d 590 (1974), Quoting Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60, 80, 62 S. Ct. 457, 86 L. Ed. 680 (1942).� That summary includes conclusions from evidence that I left out of my summary because I was not trying to view it as most favorable to the government. Altogether it is a pretty damning case. If there is room for reasonable doubt, it is in the credibility of Michael Anderson�s eyewitness testimony placing Peltier at the agents� cars with the AR-15, the possibility that the actual culprits left the scene in a different red vehicle before backup arrived (the Mr. X scenario), and that someone else may have been carrying another weapon capable of firing high-velocity, low-caliber ammunition but that the defense never found out about it. Of the three possibilities, the only one that is truly �reasonable� is that the FBI persuaded Michael Anderson to offer false testimony. Again, if that's the case, Peltier deserves a new trial, but there's no proof of it, not even circumstantial evidence.

At bottom, the defense proved that the FBI dealt unfairly on a consistent basis with the American Indians, but the prosecution proved that Leonard Peltier murdered the FBI agents "with malice aforethought."

Education for Free!

Today I went to the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park with my parents to see it one last time before it closes in December for remodeling. While there, I discovered a number of exciting programs and opportunities that may interest you as well.

This weekend, October 25-26, is FREE of admission for those dwelling in the 94114 area code. They have a beautiful exhibit on the Arctic Wildlife Refuge right now that was partially censored while on display at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC.

November 6 (Thursday): David Quamman will be giving a lecture entitled "Monsters of God: The Man-Eating Predators in the Jungles of History and the Mind" about the changing role of humans in the food chain at 7:30. $8 non-members.

November 12 (Wednesday): Brian Fagan will be giving a lecture entitled "Before California: An Archaelogist Looks at Our Earliest Inhabitants" with a book-signing to follow at 2:00 and 7:30. $8 non-members.

November 15 (Saturday): Public Forum "Global Warming: Global Warning? State of the World 2003" including lectures by many of the leading experts in the field.

There are also a number of cool bird-watching trips, a seminar on navigating by the stars (in which one uses actual sextants!), and a series of lectures on the evolution of science. Anyone seeking more information or company for such endeavors is welcome to email me or visit www.calacademy.org/education.


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Gene and I just took the five boxes of culled books to a used book store to sell, and though they only took two boxes, I got what I was hoping to sell all of them for, so I am happy. Better yet, the book buyer said, as if surprised, "You've got some pretty neat stuff here." The street creds from that alone are worth the selling.

Why All the Fuss?

If it's so clear that Peltier did it, why make a martyr out of him? The FBI didn't exactly keep their nose's clean either. During the trial of Butler and Robideau it was found that the FBI had threatened a key prosecution witness to change his testimony completely. Peltier was extradicted from Canada on the strength of an affadavit by a mentally incapacitated women who had never met him. The FBI had used her before to swear that she was the girlfriend of a suspect and had seen him commit the crime. All three of the Indian boys who testified to seeing Peltier, Robideau, and Butler walk down to the cars were denied lawyers when they requested them. However, the government isn�t alone. There is evidence that the organization defending Peltier also pressured witnesses into changing their testimony. Really, any faith I once might have placed in the image of the oppressed Indian activists was destroyed when I discovered that earlier this year a grand jury indicted two AIM members for the murder of Anna Mae Aquash, another AIM activist whose body was found by the side of the road on the same reservation just a few months after the incident. AIM had long claimed her murder was part of an FBI conspiracy because of an unbelievably incompetent first autopsy (the doctor failed to notice the gunshot wound to the back of her head), the failure of the lead FBI officer in search of her to identify the body, and the bizarre decision by that same FBI officer to cut off her hands and send them to Washington for fingerprint identification. As it happens that FBI officer was also responsible for the bogus affadavit used to extradite Peltier. The grand jury which convened in her case seems to believe testimony that the leaders of AIM believed Anna Mae to be an FBI informant and ordered the hit. There were plenty of other actual FBI informants in the organization at the time, and they were spreading rumors that Anna Mae was the mole to cast suspicion away from themselves. The bottom line is that foul play runs so deep on both sides that there is really no one you can trust. I remain unconvinced of any orchestrated FBI conspiracy, but the behavior of the particular agents involved in this case was reprehensible, and I doubt that is uncommon.

Did He Really Do It?

Three questions you must ask:

    Why first-degree murder (as opposed to manslaughter in a firefight)?

  1. The two agents were killed virtually point-blank, while already lying on the ground. One was unconscious, the other raised his hand to the mouth of the AR-15 just before it was fired, taking away three of his fingers.
  2. The two sides were far from evenly matched; the FBI agents were firing revolvers (with a range of 50 yards) from the middle of an open field at Indians 250 yards away. The Indians were firing semi-automatic weapons from a protected ridge. Several people heard the FBI agents' radio transmissions for help, and the first shots are almost immediately heard after the agents said, �It looks like they�re going to fire on us.�
  3. Peltier had a motive. He told Canadian mounties that the FBI agents had been killed in a firefight when they attempted to arrest him on an outstanding warrant. The FBI officers had no idea Peltier was there, nor that there was a warrant outstanding for his arrest.
The FBI originially arrested four suspects for the murder, but one was acquitted when it was discovered he was absent the day of the murders. Two (Bob Robideau and Dino Butler) were tried separately from Peltier who was resisting extradition in Canada. They were found 'not guilty' in the absence of some of the evidence that was later found and used against Peltier.

    Why Leonard Peltier, Bob Robideau, and Dino Butler?

  1. Angie Long Visitor testified that a red and white van matching the description of that the FBI agents followed onto the compound belonged to Peltier (Sam Loud Hawk gave it to him after Peltier fixed it up).
  2. Three young Indian men testified to seeing Peltier, Robideau, and Butler walk down to the agents� cars.
  3. Among the shell casings found were some .35 caliber ones that matched the gun used to kill Jean Bissonette, a murder from months earlier when the ammo was traced back to the location where Leonard Peltier, Bob Robideau, and Dino Butler were staying (i.e. the three of them were connected to a previous murder investigation).
  4. The two FBI agents� guns were taken after their murder. They were later recovered when Butler, Robideau, and Peltier were arrested. All three were arrested in different states and each was in possession of one of the agents' guns used in the shootout.

    Why Peltier?

  1. The agents heads were blown apart by high-velocity, low-caliber (.30 and under, including .223 caliber) ammunition. From testimony offered by the other Indians present, Leonard Peltier was firing an AR-15, the only weapon any of the three sighted at the cars was firing that was capable of firing .223 caliber ammunition.
  2. A shell casing from a .223 was found near the dead agents (in the trunk of one of their cars) apparently expelled from the murder weapon, but only that one was found despite three shots having been fired. The marks on that casing were consistent with those made by an AR-15 attributed to Peltier that was later found in Bob Robideau�s station wagon.
  3. Because the bullets fired at the agents exploded, it is impossible to know precisely what caliber they originally were. One bullet remained fairly intact in the ground beneath one agent�s head, and this bullet was a .223, though it had no blood on it. There was one other person there firing a .308, bolt-action rifle (the only other weapon present that day capable of causing the wounds the agents sustained), but no one claims to have seen him down at the cars.

Basically, Peltier was close enough to shoot the agents and the only one carrying a gun that matched the bullets. He wasn't convicted of first degree murder though. He is serving on aiding and abetting, which he would be guilty of simply for having been there when the two were shot.

Free Leonard Peltier!

Leonard Peltier is serving two consecutive life sentences in Leavenworth for the first degree murder of two FBI agents. Those of you who attended reasonably liberal colleges have probably witnessed the hippie with telltale dreadlocks asking you to sign his or her petition for the president to grant clemency to Peltier and other American "political prisoners." Spurred on by a number of pop culture references such as �Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee� sung by the Indigo Girls, the Ken Burns PBS Documentary �The West,� Howard Zinn�s A People�s History of the United States, and our recent trip through the South Dakota Badlands, the Black Hills, and Yellowstone, I decided to look into the history of Wounded Knee, SD, the site of Peltier's alleged crime.

In 1890, in retaliation for the massive defeat suffered at Custer's Last Stand, the U.S. Army massacred between 150 and 300 Lakota (Sioux), most of whom were the unarmed widows and orphans of plains warriors, at Wounded Knee. It was said to be the last "battle" of the Indian Wars, after which American Indians were concentrated onto reservations where it was hoped they would quietly go extinct. The historical marker for this "battle" stands in the middle of the bleakest landscape I have ever laid eyes on. There is nothing but dirt and low-lying scrub in the gulleys. The Pine Ridge Reservation, which encompasses Wounded Knee is the poorest place in the entire US, with an unemployment rate ranging from 40-75%. There is a green piece of wood reading "Massacre" nailed over the the word "Battle" on the US-government-authored history of the site.

Thus the American Indian Movement of the mid-1970's chose it as the site of its protest against the Government's treatment of native peoples. Leonard Peltier was a Lieutenant in the organization in 1975 when he went to help protect the residents from the corrupt tribal chairman and his GOONs (Guardians of the Oglala Nation). A number of AIM activists were staying on the Jumping Bull compound when two FBI agents drove in and the Indians opened fire (perhaps thinking they were GOONs). At the end of the firefight, the two FBI agents lay dead of execution-style shots to the head.

The people of freepeltier.org have their own version of the story to tell, but after days of research reading articles and trial transcripts, I have come to the conclusion that he had a fair trial, does not deserve an appeal, and is most likely guilty not only of aiding and abetting, but of the murders for which he was convicted. Much as I wanted to sympathize with the clearly oppressed Native Americans, Peltier seems not to be one of them.


this is as it should be...
floating, falling, surfing, accessing, the vast expanses
of informational resources, floating just beneath my fingertips...

On second thought, maybe I wasn't missing that much after all.

Nah! Many, many thanks to Gene for getting it all up and running!

*Please note that the Yellowstone ratings are finally up under the Links.

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