Caveat: The Pizza Days of Late December

Since we start all new classes in January, I have had a series of "last classes" with various cohorts of students. As a kind of tradition, I typically buy them pizza and we have a little party. I had quite a number of these over the last several days. A few classes where they wanted to, we played some games, too. Anyway, I will be sad about the students I won't likely see again (because they're moving up to 9th grade, where I no longer teach). 

The Pizza Days have ended. Monday is all-new classes. A lot of work, but for now, I will do nothing until next year. 

[daily log: walking, 7.5km]

Caveat: My last things will be first things

Mint

It looked like a clump of small dusty nettles
Growing wild at the gable of the house
Beyond where we dropped our refuse and old bottles
Unverdant ever, almost beneath notice.

But, to be fair, it also spelled promise
And newness in the back yard of our life
As if something callow yet tenacious
Sauntered in green alleys and grew rife.

The snip of scissor blades, the light of Sunday
Mornings when the mint was cut and loved:
My last things will be first things slipping from me.
Yet let all things go free that have survived.

Let the smells of mint go heady and defenceless
Like inmates liberated in that yard.
Like the disregarded ones we turned against
Because we’d failed them by our disregard.

– Seamus Heaney (Irish poet, 1939-2013)

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: I’m sorry, it turns out you were given the placebo

I consider myself an advocate of evidence-based medicine. Generally, I have little patience for people who advocate for unproven medical approaches (or worse, "alternative medicines" that have been specifically proven in repeated studies to be useless). I am a regular reader of science-based medicine blogs such as the excellent (if often monotonous and occasionally strident) sciencebasedmedicine.org.

In my role as cancer survivor, I would say I have been subjected to a greater number of these kinds of advocacies than the average person, too.

Nevertheless, any kind of advocacy – even the advocacy for evidence-based medicine – can be taken too far.  The excessive push for the "gold-standard" – randomized controlled trials - in every type of health-focused intervention can certainly be carried too far. I ran across this excellent, short satire that appears, "played straight," at the British Medical Journal website. Here is a sampling.

Abstract

Objectives: To determine whether parachutes are effective in preventing major trauma related to gravitational challenge.

Design: Systematic review of randomised controlled trials.

Data sources: Medline, Web of Science, Embase, and the Cochrane Library databases; appropriate internet sites and citation lists.

Study selection: Studies showing the effects of using a parachute during free fall.

Main outcome measure: Death or major trauma, defined as an injury severity score > 15.

Results: We were unable to identify any randomised controlled trials of parachute intervention.

Conclusions: As with many interventions intended to prevent ill health, the effectiveness of parachutes has not been subjected to rigorous evaluation by using randomised controlled trials. Advocates of evidence based medicine have criticised the adoption of interventions evaluated by using only observational data. We think that everyone might benefit if the most radical protagonists of evidence based medicine organised and participated in a double blind, randomised, placebo controlled, crossover trial of the parachute.

I like the bit about "trauma related to gravitational challenge."

Addendum: Actually, before someone complains, I think I should clarify that I acknowledge at least a limited understanding that there is an important technical difference between the concepts of "science-based medicine" and "evidence-based medicine," and that, in fact, this satire is essentially a criticism of the latter from the perspective of the former. 

[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: How did I get here?

"Teacher, can I use my phone now?"

This is normally not encouraged during class. It was 9:30 – halfway through the last hour of class.

"Can't this wait until after class ends?" I asked.

"I need to call my mom," she explained.

"Um… why do you need to call your mom?"

Pause. "I have to tell to get a ride home."

"I see. Well, I guess that's important," I acquiesced.

A moment later, after fishing around her backpack, she said, "I can't find my phone. Can I use my iPad to send a text message?"

I shrugged. "One way, or another. But can you get it done? So we can continue with class?"

She fiddled with her iPad for a moment, then looked up. "Actually, uh… I just remembered, I rode my bike."

"So you don't need to call your mom?"

She nodded. It's worth noting that this girl, finishing up the 7th grade, is the absolute highest-scoring student at Karma, right now. And although she speaks with a noticeable Korean accent, in terms of grammar and vocabulary I'd give her the lead in a comparison with any US teenager. But she's a bit of an airhead.

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: Karmacarols

Last Friday, my TQ phonics class merged with Grace's CS "post-phonics" class and had a caroling competition. These are 2nd and 3rd graders. Grace's class have been studying English for two years but the TQ kids (last group singing) have had less than a year of English, just a few hours a week. So I was proud of them.

[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: I turn to stone

This year, Christmas is on a Sunday. Since Christmas isn't a major holiday in Korea, that means that this year, there are no days off for Christmas. It's just a Sunday, and I get my typical 1.5 day weekend. 

I made some syllabuses (-bi?) this past week, for the new year. So I was busy.  I will rest in a fairly unchristmassy way, and return to work on Monday.


What I'm listening to right now.

Electric Light Orchestra, "Turn To Stone."

Lyrics.

The city streets are empty now THE LIGHTS DON'T SHINE NO MORE
and so the songs are way down low TURNING TURNING TURNING
A sound that flows into my mind THE ECHOES OF THE DAYLIGHT
of everything that is alive IN MY BLUE WORLD

I turn to stone when you are gone, I turn to stone.
Turn to stone when you comin' home, I can't go on.

The dying embers of the night A FIRE THAT SLOWLY FADES TILL DAWN
still glow upon the wall so bright BURNING BURNING BURNING
The tired streets that hide away FROM HERE TO EVERYWHERE THEY GO
roll past my door into the day IN MY BLUE WORLD

I turn to stone when you are gone, I turn to stone.
Turn to stone when you comin' home, I can't go on.
Turn to stone when you are gone, I turn to stone.

Yes, I'm turnin' to stone 'cos you ain't comin' home.
Why you ain't comin' home if I'm turnin' to stone?
You've been gone for so long and I can't carry on,
yes, I'm turnin', I'm turnin', I'm turnin' to stone.

The dancing shadows on the wall THE TWO-STEP IN THE HALL
are all I see since you've been gone TURNING TURNING TURNING
Through all I sit here and I wait I TURN TO STONE I TURN TO STONE
You will return again some day TO MY BLUE WORLD

I turn to stone when you are gone, I turn to stone.
Turn to stone when you comin' home, I can't go on.
Turn to stone when you are gone, I turn to stone.

I turn to stone when you are gone, I turn to stone.
Turn to stone when you comin' home, I can't go on.
Turn to stone when you are gone, I turn to stone.

[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: On teaching and emotion

One of my coworkers was reduced to tears, yesterday, by the academic intransigence of one of her students, who is also a student I know well. He has appeared several times in the blog, though typically I don't always name my students here, or if I do, I name them inconsistently, which protects their identity. 

I like this student, but I understand my coworker's frustration too. He is almost unteachable, at least in a conventional sense. Stubborn and unmotivated, and somehow both smart but incapable of remembering what seem like elementary bits of information. The other day he asked me how to spell "Karma" – the name of our academy and something you'd expect a 2-years-plus student to have mastered. 

I was trying to reassure my coworker, who was suffering quite a bit of embarrassment about her overly emotional response. Finally, somewhat unintentionally, I stumbled on a bit a feedback that I'm willing to stand by: I told her that the fact that she was reduced to tears is not an embarrassment but rather a sign that she is a teacher to be respected, as it indicates she genuinely cares about what she is trying to do. I added that there has been more than one teacher who has passed through Karma who would never have reacted to a student in such a way, but that perhaps that only signifies that they were less interested in the results they are able to achieve. 

I suppose this anecdote doesn't have much of a deeper purpose, except just to share that I think teachers should be emotionally invested in their students, even if that makes for rough going sometimes. I have argued with Curt and others about this – sometimes I feel like he only wants robots teaching. I understand that view point – as a manager of an education business, he wants replicable and scalable results, not emotional individuals. Nevertheless, I think there can be ways to allow both.

[daily log: walking, 6.5km]