Arizona Attorney Magazine, December 2015 arts and education

Arizona Attorney Magazine, December 2015

How is Arizona doing in the realm of education? And what role can—and should—arts play in the complete development of the human mind?

Those were a few of the questions that drove us toward our December cover story for Arizona Attorney Magazine. Yes, Arizona is consistently ranked poorly in national assessments of education. Given our longtime commitment to arts at the magazine, we wondered what our lawyer-artists would think of the topic.

That’s what took our writer, Oriana Parker, into fascinating conversations with numerous Arizona lawyers. The result, I think, is an insightful and highly readable piece that speaks to modern public policy issues.

You can read the whole story here. And thank you to those lawyers who gave of their time and talents to share their thoughts.

What did you think of the topic—and our coverage? And how should we be covering important policy dialogues in the future? Write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

Arts and education Dec 2015 Arizona Attorney opening spread-page0001 combined Arizona Attorney Magazine

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Simplicity's out: Teachers say use more expressive words.

Simplicity’s out: Teachers say use more expressive words.

Does the American population need to become more expressive? I don’t know, but I think the jury’s still out on that.

Happy Change of Venue Friday. Today I share an odd news story about a new way some kids are being taught to write. If I could boil it down for you, it would be: “Fancier words, please.”

I honestly want to know what you think. But I won’t hide the ball: This sounds pretty awful to me.

Here is part of the story:

English teachers were once satisfied if they could prevent their pupils from splitting infinitives. Now some also want to stop them from using words like “good,” “bad,” “fun” and “said.”

“We call them dead words,” said (or declared) Leilen Shelton, a middle school teacher in Costa Mesa, Calif. She and many others strive to purge pupils’ compositions of words deemed vague or dull.

“There are so many more sophisticated, rich words to use,” said (or affirmed) Ms. Shelton, whose manual “Banish Boring Words” has sold nearly 80,000 copies since 2009.

Here is the story from the Wall Street Journal.

As someone I follow closely said. “This pretty much goes against every guide to good writing, fiction or nonfiction.”

And for journalists, the idea that you should say “exclaimed” rather than “said” could get you fired. After all, the goal is to report in a straightforward way, minus the spin that words like “squawked,” “bellowed,” and “intimated” might … intimate.

Of course, if kids want to make their creative writing more evocative, have at it. But adding $5 words when a nickel word will do isn’t helping anyone.

But maybe I’m just being overly pusillanimous.

Have a great—and thesaurus-free—weekend.

sometimes-i-use-big-words-i-dont-fully-understand-photosynthesis

cle snippets teaser logo

This teaser signifies a new and innovative way to combine magazine content with online learning.

The June issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine features the launch of an intriguing monthly collaboration—which offers more ways for attorneys to gain some useful legal knowledge.

It is called a “CLE Snippet” (I didn’t name it), and each one is planned to be a 15-minute video on a topic from the newest Arizona Attorney.

It started in June, and the inaugural video is drawn from our Eye on Ethics column, written by attorney Dave Dodge. He wrote this month on joint defense agreements. You can read his column here.

The online part of the snippet is the video, which this month is a Q&A between Dave and Bar ethics guru Patricia Sallen.

Yes, the Snippet is a CLE Department offering, so there is a cost. But you can go and watch some and decide if this abbreviated form of learning is for you.

cle snippets screen grab sallen dodge - Pat Sallen and Dave Dodge chat about joint defense agreements, in the inaugural CLE Snippet of the State Bar of Arizona.

Pat Sallen and Dave Dodge chat about joint defense agreements, in the inaugural CLE Snippet of the State Bar of Arizona.

We’re putting together our July/August issue now, so I can’t reveal what the next Snippet will be. But I hope you find it helpful and tune in.

prison_green haven NYYou may not have known that a Prison Awareness Club was a thing. But in a nation apparently committed to that growth industry, it only makes good sense that college students might engage on the topic of corrections.

This Friday, March 28, the third annual Prison Education Conference will be staged at ASU.

The all-day event is sponsored by the Department of English, the School of Social Transformation, and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The free event (open to the public) will include speakers, discussion panels and the screening of what looks to be a compelling film.

Writer Sought

I may be able to attend, but I currently have a conflict. If you are a law student, student of the law (most generally defined), or a lawyer—and you are NOT one of the event organizers—I invite you to contact me to discuss a guest blog post. It might cover the entire event, or perhaps be just a review of the film Zero Percent. Write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

Keynote Speaker

The conference includes a keynote by author Marshall Frank. As a news story describes his work:

“This year’s conference features keynote speaker Marshall Frank, a retired police captain from Miami, Fla., who led more than a thousand homicide investigations during his career and has since written hundreds of op-eds and articles about the state of America’s justice system.”

“In his most recent book ‘Criminal InJustice in America,’ Frank explores inequities of the prison system, “a multi-billion-dollar industry, which would collapse if there was a sudden downturn in inmate residency.” Perhaps that’s why the United States has 5 percent of the world’s population, but a staggering 25 percent of its prisoners. Critics have hailed ‘Criminal InJustice’ as ‘challenging,’ ‘thought-provoking’ and “daring.’”

Read the complete ASU News story here.

Panels Cover Prison Education

The complete agenda is here.

Among the speakers will be a representative from the Arizona Department of Corrections, and his compatriot from the New Mexico prison system. The organizers also feature the insights of educators from three Arizona prison complexes.

A second keynote will be Sean Pica, head of Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison. And it is the Hudson connection that may yield one of the day’s most enlightening aspects—a film.

Zero Percent Film To Screen

The film trailer for Zero Percent explains—a little—about the challenges faced by incarcerated individuals. Watch the trailer here.

More information about Hudson Link is here. And you can follow their posts on Facebook too.

The event location is the University Club on the ASU campus. A scalable map is here.

RSVP: peac.org@asu.edu

flier Prison Education Conference 2014_opt

Minority Bar Convention 2014 spring training for lawyers revised

It’s spring, so our days are filled with events. Today I mention an annual event, sponsored by the State Bar of Arizona, which is always helpful to lawyers in practice.

Formerly called the Minority Bar Convention (more on that in a minute), the Bar’s “Spring Training for Lawyers” covers a wide variety of practice topics. Maybe it’s something in the air at the location (the Desert Willow Conference Center), but I’m not sure I’ve ever sat through a weak seminar at the annual event.

Before I go on and one, here is where you can register. The conference is next week, on Thursday and Friday, March 27 and 28.

And the complete agenda and seminar descriptions are here.

Now to the name change.

I was a little surprised to see the longtime Minority Bar Convention transform into a baseball metaphor. Shifting from a storied brand is quite a change. Happily, the Bar has a video teasing the event, and it includes a discussion of the name change, as described by the co-chairs, attorneys Kami Hoskins and Chad Bellville.

Here is the video:

No matter the name, it appears that the event will continue its strong focus on quality. And for that, we must thank the State Bar of Arizona Committee on Minorities and Women in the Law.

My one passionate takeaway from the video? Buy a tripod, won’t you, State Bar? Let’s rifle through the closets; I’m sure we’ve got one somewhere.

Again, the location is the Desert Willow Conference Center, 4340 E. Cotton Center Blvd., Phoenix, AZ 85040. Here is a map.

this is your brain on typical conferences

This is your brain on typical conferences. (The sizzle you hear is not the good kind.)

So, why do I point you toward a conference that you may never attend? The Niche Media Conference begins in just over a month, and attorneys may not be its natural audience. But here are a few reasons I share the news with you:

  1. Who knows? You might attend it.
  2. It features large masses of awesomeness, which we mere mortals often have in short supply.
  3. You may be headed to Charleston, S.C., anyway in late February, so who knows?
  4. You may have a law firm or a niche practice that could benefit from new ideas, free-wheeling creativity, and grits.

I have told you about the Niche Media Conference before. And I do so again not because I harbor any illusions that lawyers may suddenly decide to expand their horizons and get their brain muscles flexing in different directions.

I do it because you should do exactly that.

Here, I suppose, is where an excellent, non-tired correspondent would provide some brain research to back up his persuasive argument. But I’m afraid you’re out of luck there. All I can tell you is, most mental breakthroughs I’m familiar with occurred not when I faced the same-same, but when I was challenged by the jaw-droppingly different. How about you?

Niche Media Conference croppedOver here in publication-land, we face a shifting world just as off-putting as that facing the legal profession. We’re reminded that “People don’t read anymore,” that “People want to consume everything on their mobile device,” that “People are moving to entirely gluten-free diets.”

OK, I inserted that last one simply to reward folks who read all the way to the fourth graf. A hat tip to you hardy souls.

But all of those challenges are merely spurs to get us all thinking creatively. Whether you’re in law or in an award-winning niche publication like Arizona Attorney (see what I did there), your success won’t arrive with same-same. But it may arrive if you associate yourself with smart, creative folks.

Which takes me back to Niche. Though my own schedule won’t permit me to head to the Palmetto State next month (Balderdash!), I still get pretty jazzed just examining the Niche website.

Once again, it opens with a fast-moving and humorous video. See a terrific sneak peek here.

And then the website mentions sweet tea, bourbon, shrimp and grits. And ONLY then does it provide the detail about its educational tracks. Priorities, people.

Just as compelling are the seminars, which almost entirely are hands-on and practical-focused. The Niche goal is that when you return home, grits- and bourbon-laden, you also possess a number of ideas you can institute immediately to help your business.

I do not get paid by Niche to say this, nor do they give me a free registration or even a glass of sweet tea. My words are, in the best Southern tradition, a lagniappe (look that up, you Millennials who don’t read anymore).

I offer this testimony as someone who has attended many conferences of the legal variety. And if law practice has to change (please tell me we all agree on that), legal conferences must shift, as well.

We’d do worse than learn from some great videos and, even better, a forward-thinking attitude.

And did I mention bourbon?

In terms of laws, the past month has been combination of high theater and low motives. We, an unwilling audience, have watched as U.S. leaders hammered out a non-answer to a manufactured problem. By the time Congress finally agreed to raise the debt ceiling, they had transformed an administrative function (“Should we pay the bills we’ve incurred through our own votes?” “Hmmm, I don’t know”) into the personification of our leadership’s decline.

The result is, of course, a law, because that is the only product Congress manufactures. And all indications are that the law will do little to rescue a failing economy. In fact, it probably will hasten its decline.

But as Americans and media focused on the potential harm done by that law and its willing orchestrators, we may have missed new developments into what many say is the harm done by another piece of legislation. That law, they argue, is doing its darnedest to submarine American education—which, like the economy, was formerly of great interest to our leaders.

No Child Left Behind is the witty name for the law, a name that has been parodied and pilloried. In fact, its former biggest critic is now the U.S. President.

But campaigning and governing are two different things, and, according to school experts around the country, this administration has managed to worsen things rather than improve them. According to critics, NCLB, with its unworldly and demeaning standards, has become a battering ram that is crushing schools, district by district and state by state.

That is the law that gave us news stories like this one in late July, indicating that 42 percent of Arizona schools are failing to make “adequate yearly progress” (Washington-speak for “testing bad”).

Now, intelligent minds can differ on how to improve education. And many allege that the testing mania underlying NCLB benefits only (a) those who seek to undermine schools and teachers, and (b) test-prep companies. But that is not all that makes the law troubling.

What should be of concern is that the hammer of NCLB demands that a certain percentage of American schools reach “ proficiency” in certain subjects by the year 2014. And that percentage must be 100.

100 percent of schools. All of them. That is not a typo.

Let’s think about that for a moment.

This takes a grand notion—success for all—and molds it into a cudgel.

In the face of that battering, Arizona is doing poorly. But many other states are on a downward trend too. Read this Education Week op-ed for a view into the problem.

But what makes NCLB and the debt-ceiling legislation soul sisters is something else entirely.

In both cases, Congress, wanting to get home already, passed a law that everyone—including lawmakers—knew must be modified in order to be workable. The heavy lifting was left for another day. But competing priorities and a lack of political will nearly guarantee that day will never arrive.

Therefore, a law that required schools to take tiny steps the first few years now demands 30, 40 and eventually 50 percent annual jumps in achievement. Even the people who wrote that stuff always expected that the timelines would be extended. Except that they weren’t. Boo-hoo for schools and teachers, which have been transformed into automated test-givers. Tough luck for a generation of kids, spoon-fed Scantron pablum, while those in other countries learn how to think and explore.

Show us the industry that could make performance leaps like that. Or the profession that would swallow the potions coming out of amateur hour at the Capitol and not see them for what they are: demoralizing and demeaning.

As one writer put it on Twitter, the law “has made testing and preparation the central occupation of school reform.”

That is wrong. But so askew are our priorities that the congressional response to a school decline that they are mandating is, “So?”

Maybe if Moody’s downgraded the U.S. rating based on education, they’d be concerned.