The Dim Bulb

The Occasional Musings of an Educator

by Michael Keany

The brain is capable of performing 10 quadrillion (that’s 10 to the 16th) “calculations,” or synaptic events, per second using only about 15 watts of power. At this rate, a computer as powerful as the human brain would require 1 gigawatt of power. Maybe a dim bulb isn't really as dim as it seems.

The photo at the left is the Livermore Centennial bulb, the world's longest burning electric bulb. 

Number 2

February 27, 2011


Sometime in the future …


"Good evening, this is Ilana Blitzer, from CNN's Situation Room.  We are all anxiously waiting for the President's address to the nation.  The speech will come at the end of a historic day in the nation's capital which saw massive demonstrations and sporadic violence.  The scenes you see behind me on our holographic stage depict only a small portion of the over six million demonstrators demanding that the government act.  Let's go to our analyst on the scene, Justin Beiber."


"Justin, tell us what you know."


"Well Ilana, things are very tense on the streets.  There is a sense that no one knows what might really happen.  Troops have ringed the White House and the Capitol.  Ilana, I think your father, Wolf, never saw anything like this."


"Yes, certainly.  A year ago, no one ever thought Washington would ever be under siege.  While we wait for the President's address, let's go to our team to try to get some perspective on how we got to this historic night.  First, let's hear from our senior analyst, Natalie Portman."


"Natalie, just how did we get here?"


"It's hard to say, Ilana, but I think most people in a position to know think it started way back in 2011.  Somehow, that year, public education became expendable.  Yes, we had an economic crisis, but as the young people on the streets of Washington tonight are chanting, 'That's wasn't my fault, why punish me?'  With the drastic, recurring cuts to public education, people, who could do so, fled public schools and started private schools with elite memberships.  Looking back, we see the seeds sowed then for the problems we have now;  massive unemployment, inability to compete with the nations of the world in the marketplace, and essentially a denial of the American dream."


"It seems so shortsighted now."


"Yes, but with the short economic recovery we experienced in 2013, everyone saw a rosy future.  Little did we know that we were mortgaging our future.  At the very time when our nation was becoming more diverse demographically, we turned to separation and, what we sadly now realize, a segregated system of education, which was once our great equalizer."


"We also have here tonight one of the chief spokespersons for the demonstrators, Jesus Martinez.  Mr. Martinez delivered a stirring speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial this morning.  Mr. Martinez, what can you add to help us understand what brought us to this day?"


"As I said this morning, it was always a dream delayed in America, but never a dream denied.  Once the dream is denied, the contract in society is broken.  Everyone knew education was the great equalizer.  To take that away from your children is to deny the dream.  Now we demand justice.  It may be too late for us, who history will shamefully record as the lost generation, but we hope it is not too late for our children.  As I said today, "It is my dream that my children will be prepared for the future, not denied its bounty.  It is my dream that my children will know their brothers and sisters, even if they didn't go to the elite school across my town."


"Mr. Martinez, the President is due to address the nation in a few minutes.  What can she say that will satisfy the millions in the streets, not only in DC but in many of the major cities in our country?"


"Frankly, Ms. Blitzer, there is little she can say.  The damage has been done.  How can we reverse the profound harm done to a generation in which American public education went from a model of democratic ideals to a system that is so poorly regarded by the rest of the world?  We awoke from this decline to realize that our young people can no longer compete on a world stage.  Our health, transportation, manufacturing, and safety systems no longer function because we cannot import enough educated workers to provide the services and our own citizenry cannot perform the technological tasks necessary.  We no longer innovate.  We no longer create.  Our famed American "know-how" has become our American "know-not."  When once we were the cultural spark of the world, now our great theaters and concert halls lie dark and empty.  Our swagger has become our stagger.  Our young people work in menial functions for foreign employers, that is if they are even lucky enough to get jobs.  Our economic system has no foundation and everyone seems surprised to see the precipitous decline of the Dow.  Did we not know that the wealth of a nation is really a factor of the education of that nation's young people?"


"Surely, there is something that we can do."


"Ms. Blitzer, how do you rebuild a tree once the roots are destroyed?"


"Thank you for your time, Mr. Martinez.  We all share your alarm at this critical time.  Now, I'm being told the President has moved to the Sony hologram room in the White House.  Soon she will appear in millions of homes across America and in special installations located in the Washington Mall and many of our major cities."


"Good evening my fellow Americans.  I come to you this evening to address what is perhaps the greatest crisis to face our way of life …."


Michael Keany is a retired principal, now working as an educational consultant.  He is the former Director of the Long Island School Leadership Center, moderator of its LISTSERV and co-founder (with William Brennan) of School Leadership 2.0.  Write Mike at .


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Comment by Arnold Dodge on March 3, 2011 at 1:32pm


Brilliant stuff.  So glad you are out there fighting the good fight.  Scary scenarios about the future of education may be the wake up calls we need to correct our course.

Comment by Dr. Sid Barish on March 1, 2011 at 3:12pm
School leaders need to be honest and transparent when addressing their stakeholders about progress in the schools.  When resources are allocated to address priorities derived from data on student accomplishments it is easier to win support from even tax-weary residents.  Let good data reveal the bang for the buck on one hand, and where support may be needed on the other.  People recognize value when they see it, and that's what will win the hearts and minds ... and votes of most.
Comment by David Wicks on February 27, 2011 at 3:05pm

Wow...what a scary, but all too possible, vision of our future.  However, how do we get the message to those outside of the world of education without being viewed as selfish elitists fighting to keep our "plush" pensions and our summers "off"?  I believe that we have to look at the last installment of this blog.  We have to become our own PR people.  Every employee in the district has to believe in its vision and "sell" that vision to the community.  Of course, this is easier said than done, but it has to be the focus of every school leader to get their faculty and staff to "buy in" to this more than ever.

Comment by Lenny DiBiase on February 27, 2011 at 2:34pm

A very ominous view of the possible future; Is this the beginning of the second American Revolution?   Was public education the real “opiate of the people”?  Most disturbing of all is that Justin Beiber is reporting for CNN.  Baby baby baby please!





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