A few weeks ago, I joined a small group of photographers in Lexington, Virginia for a weekend at the Balloons Over Rockbridge festival. We were up at dawn on Saturday and Sunday to watch the crews set up and launch their classic hot air craft.
For the past ten years, we in this area have heard stories and seen photos of a collection of huge concrete presidential busts sitting in a field near Williamsburg. Unfortunately, this Virginia oddity is usually not open to the public, locked away on private land.
Jay Mathews1 really, really, really wants Virginia to have lots of charter schools. REALLY!
As always when he writes on this topic, Mathews doesn’t explain how transferring tax money to charters will improve public schools. His emphasis in these waste-of-newsprint Washington Post columns is always on the politics of the issue, with little to nothing about the educational value.
Tangier is an interesting little corner of Virginia. It was first visited by English explorers, including John Smith, in the early 1600s and has had a permanent settlement since the 1770’s.
Recently, the island has become a symbol both for the effects of climate change,1 as well as for those who stubbornly cling to climate change denialism.2 Tangier has lost nearly 67% of it’s land mass since 1850 and is expected to become uninhabitable within the next 50 years due to rising sea levels.
This past July, I spent a few hours3 in this unique environment, with the chance to make some interesting photos. Ironically, we were supposed to visit in May but had to cancel due to a storm that brought heavy rains, high winds, and flooding.
Most of Tangier’s economy depends on fishing and especially soft-shell crabs. Although this summer was a pretty good season, their catch is being negatively impacted by climate change.
Many beautiful homes on Tangier, some of which date to the colonial era, have been abandoned due both to the rise in the water level and as more younger people move away to find greater opportunities.
Large parts of the island are marsh land and that area is growing. I’ve read different estimates of when the island will become uninhabitable but none are very far off.
This sea wall was built to protect the island’s airport from rising waters. It will be very expensive, and ultimately useless, to construct similar defenses for the rest of the island. But that’s exactly what many local residents expect to happen, based on promises from the current president.4
More photos from my visit to Tangier can be seen in this gallery.
1. An article and video in the Atlantic calls the residents “Among the First Climate Refugees in the U.S.”.
2. In a long excerpt from a book about Tangier and its residents, Politico calls it “The Doomed Island That Loves Trump”.
3. The ferry from Reedville, VA leaves at 10am and normally departs Tangier at 2pm sharp. Our return trip that day was delayed to 2:30. Still not a long time but enough to marvel at the environment.
4. Something like 87% of the residents voted for him.
Last November, Virginia became the first state in the US to require computer science instruction – specifically “computer science and computational thinking, including computer coding” – at all levels K-12. For elementary students, teachers will be expected to integrate the concepts into the rest of their instruction. In middle and high school, students can choose elective courses in computer science but will not be required to take one.
Is this a good thing?
Lots of politicians, business folks, and other education “experts” have declared that CS for all students is necessary. Some say that the economic future of the country depends on training many more computer programmers, although the case for that is rather shaky (like that for the emphasis on STEM). Others seem to believe that CS would be beneficial to every high school graduate for a variety of rather murky reasons.
I certainly believe that everyone should have a fundamental understanding of how the hardware and software they use every day works. If we’re going to depend on computers to run our lives and the rest of the world, we should at least know a little about what’s happening.
However, I’m not sure these new requirements from the department of education will ever get that job done.
For one thing, these new Standards of Learning will not be tested which means it’s quite likely that, in most classrooms, the content will be added in when time allows. I also suspect that many teachers will be given the requirements with little or no help implementing them. Professional development of any kind is not given a big priority in most districts, especially for something not tested.
All of which points to a larger problem for not only CS for all, but also for STEM, the maker movement, design thinking, project-based learning, and the other “reform” ideas we have been pouring into schools in the past decade or two: there’s no room for them in the “normal” school day.
Coding is done in an hour. STEM lessons are done in after-school programs. Students go to maker spaces for special activities, in they same way they used to go to the computer lab. We bring out the projects after the “regular” work is complete.
If computer science and the rest of this is really important, it needs to be part of the standard curriculum. Every day for all students, not just on special occasions for the kids we know will pass the standardized tests.
Fitting it in shouldn’t be hard since much of the mathematics and science curriculums used in schools is crap and could easily be trashed (or at least minimized).
Replacing the classical, college-prep academic training that begins early in elementary grades with curiosity-driven, hands-on activities would not only allow plenty of time for CS and the rest, it would also make school more meaningful and interesting for students.
A win for everyone.