Learning Machines

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New Yorkers today enjoy the best educational system in the United States, and pay less for it than almost any other state with comparable success rates.

The revolution began in 2014, the year the very first of these Smart Schools Commissions met, with three key ingredients: voters' passage of the SMART bond act, the Regents Pathways to Graduation, and the re-election of Governor Andrew Cuomo. The simultaneous technical and structural improvements of the first two led Governor Cuomo to center his 2018 campaign on offering the "best education in the United States at the lowest cost in the country."

Enthusiastic voters leapt at the opportunity, and brought us to the school system we have today: school is something you do, not a place you go. Students can learn any time. Subsidized childcare and community athletics and culture programs provide the social functions of schools, often using the same facilities, but education is now something that happens anywhere, any time.

The Board of Regents and the New York State Education Department supervise multiple curricula developed and managed by Pearson-Disney and Bloomberg McGraw, with infrastructure provided by Google and Microsoft-AWS. Separating the the infrastructure from the curriculum and mandating competition in both avoided vendor lock-in and created incentives for efficiency. Open interfaces have allowed a market for extension classes beyond the core to thrive within the system.

Teaching systems follow the student, thanks to RFID wristbands that simplify access and minimize cheating. Students can pick up screens, glasses, and immersive environments and instantly find themselves in a media and learning level appropriate experience. Students can switch gears or sharpen focus at any point, with automatic guidance to ensure that they achieve Need to Know (NTK) goals. When students become distracted or disruptive, Electronic Hypnotic Sedation (EHS) brings them back to learning.

Parents no longer need to worry about the fortunes or whims of their school district or individual teachers affecting their child's education. Parents can take an active role in choosing curricula on a broad range of subjects from a wide variety of perspectives, while students can find their own pathways through the coursework, and work with other students across the state who are at a similar level. Continuous Performance Assessment (CPA) ended the high-stress testing challenge by providing daily feedback on student progress. Parents can see how far their children have come, every single day or even during the day.

Past Smart Schools Commissions have reflected on the challenges posed by disgruntled former employees and the glories of reduced tax bills. Those challenges seem far away now, and the glories obvious. While there are still disparities across the state in equipment readily available to students, and occasional weather-related interruptions in broadband service, this tenth Smart Schools Commission would like to take this occasion to celebrate the success of a remarkable system.


Retired Teachers Association President Jonny Lynch responds:

2014 was the beginning of the end for education in New York State. 2018 was the year in which New York assumed a leadership role, showing other state governments how best to wreck their education systems to minimize cost. New York blew through the settlement money we'd collected from the banksters on a mad quest to punish teachers and make education cheap.

Cuomo dodged indictment in 2014, but the stench lingered. US Attorneys all over the state started finding reasons to look into New York State's comfortable arrangements. They didn't quite reach the Governor's own office, but by 2018 he had enough aides locked away that he and the voters were nervous.

He had plenty of enemies, but he needed to pick a fight with one and win. As the only monopoly he didn't like, public education was a great target. Sure, he'd cranked up charters and testing, but most of what he'd managed to do was make schools even more expensive than before. The whole system had to go.

2018 became 2014 with a vengeance. A new "Smart Schools Commission", another bond act to dump money to his tech donors, and that big lie, "the best education in the United States at the lowest cost in the country." He just made teachers and parents and kids pay the tab.

We tried, but voters didn't see past his glossy fliers and endless ads. He put his energy into building a Board of Regents with the same agenda, and the Department of Education turned into an ad agency for tech. The Regents 'revisited' their earlier work on multiple pathways - which a lot of us had liked! - and demanded the creation of hundreds of different pathways to fit different students. Even a regional system couldn't handle that, and they used it to force all students to electronic systems centralized at the state level.

Systems run by the Governor's donors, of course. They poured ever more money into his campaigns and those of his allies. They filed suits his courts used to warp the "sound basic education" doctrine. Our amicus briefs couldn't penetrate.

By the mid-twenties, it felt like filmstrips and Choose Your Own Adventure books had taken over classrooms, using glossy computer screens to monopolize student attention. The electronic hypnosis started early, and getting kids to pay attention to anything else got harder and harder. They barely paid attention to each other.

Even though "negotiations were continuing", 2027 saw the sudden demise of the "free common schools" that had served as warehouses for students working with "learning machines".

Parents still needed warehousing for their kids, so the state sold them "subsidized" private childcare in the same schools. Athletics couldn't stop, so they handed over the facilities to local associations, preferably associations connected to local legislators and their friends. 90% of the costs shifted to parents, the wealthier of whom hired us retired teachers as tutors.

The weirdest part was watching other states follow New York. Once the textbook companies had repackaged their wares as "educational software and management", other states bought in. They'd added customization features to guarantee the support of homeschool parents afraid their kids would learn about communism and sex. Those worked magic when they wanted to sell beyond New York.

New York even got a bonus when it became clear how much graft the companies had indulged in the early years: another major settlement, paid for out of the profits made in all of those other states! Of course, it all went right back to more gadgets, more Need To Know, and, of course, lots of Electronic Hypnotic Sedation.

Are kids learning more or less than we used to teach? It's hard to know. Well, someone knows, but the companies aren't telling and they keep 'refuting' anyone who dares question their numbers - with lawsuits.

I didn't exactly expect to be appreciated when I started out at Lawrence Avenue Elementary, but I did expect a career that would last more than a decade before dwindling into caretaking and a very sudden retirement. I certainly didn't expect decades of press releases dancing on the grave of a system that once valued teaching.

Repentance and Reformation

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"When I was a little girl, there were bumper stickers about how Ithaca was ten square miles surrounded by reality," said County Executive Maria Reynolds. "The reality was that Ithaca was surrounded by sprawl, inhabited less by people than by Volvos and Subarus. We have changed that reality. We have repented of our past sins against the environment, and we have reformed Tompkins County to make it the beacon of progress it should always have been."

Governor Tamara Libous, State Senator William Seward, and Assemblywoman Peregrina Dogood joined Reynolds in celebrating the 30th anniversary of the "Tompkins County Reformation," a series of revival meetings that replaced Tompkins County's prior Nodal Development models of environmental presentation with a far sterner - but in many ways more blessed - urbanism.

"You showed the way," exclaimed Governor Libous to a jubilant crowd. "You showed the way to a more concentrated urban core filled with exciting things for people to do, while leaving the rural areas to a sustainable mix of farming and mining and animal habitat. You showed the world how to apply your water resources to the difficult challenges of providing energy to your residents."

Senator Seward took the unusual step of apologizing to the crowd for his ancestor, New York State Senator James L. Seward. "When my grandfather supported Home Rule for municipalities, it was only because he hadn't yet seen the light of centralized rural urbanism. In his retirement, and in his diaries, he frequently mourned his youthful errors and wished for the simpler solutions you developed."

Exhibits at the Ithaca History and Nature Center included the original 2021 petition to Governor Andrew Cuomo to allow Tompkins County to become an experimental center for localized consumption of fracked natural gas, as well as a number of different plans for restructuring the City of Ithaca to accomodate the massive number of people displaced by the project. Visitors could roleplay as planners, lawyers, volunteers moving into the city, and even the bitter-enders who refused to move downtown even after their houses were demolished.

Cornell University's Department of City and Rural Planning showed maps of the shift, including the "repentance zoning" applied in the Town of Dryden for taking its mistaken suburban "home rule" principles to court. Lecturers described models for applying the Tompkins Model to other counties and regions, with examples from Binghamton to Boulder to Poland and South Africa.

Lecturing to a packed auditorium of students and visitors, Professor Christine Nunes described how "Early 21st century environmentalism was an illusion, an echo of pastoral dreams designed to defer and delay progress toward a genuinely efficient application of our natural resources. We lacked the vision to see how only radical shifts toward concentrated urban centers and spot industrialization of our rural areas could support our population, reduce our impact, and give wildlife the room they needed to thrive."

A small group of protestors outside the lecture hall held signs claiming increased cancer rates, polluted water, and damaged natural areas, but the dignitaries and most celebrants ignored them. Police reported twenty arrests.

Tour buses brought visitors from the walkable zone of Ithaca to the outer reaches of the farms and nature preserves that dominate the county, with special stops at natural gas and water extraction facilities along the way. A visit to the State Police offices in the former Town of Dryden included a demonstration of techniques used to ensure that former residents remained downtown, as well as rides on the methane-powered helicopters used for enforcement.

In downtown Ithaca, sidewalk parties reveled late into the night, with fireworks over Cayuga Lake drawing thousands to the waterfront.

Separation of Uses

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WHEREAS, the distribution of residents in New York State has led to excessive consumption of natural resources; and

WHEREAS, the distribution of residents in New York State has also prevented the exploitation of natural resources; and

WHEREAS, land presently used by those misplaced residents would be better suited for agricultural, forestry, or mining purposes;

the STATE OF NEW YORK hereby authorizes condemnation proceedings against all primarily residential properties not within the limits of an incorporated city or village with a density of five units per acre or higher;

the STATE OF NEW YORK hereby authorizes condemnation proceedings against all commercial properties not sited on a state highway, as well as those commercial properties on a state highway whose business is other than serving agriculture, forestry, mining, or transportation;

the STATE OF NEW YORK hereby orders the clearing of buildings from the condemned properties;

the STATE OF NEW YORK grants itself the right to choose from those areas for conservation or management as state land, and orders the sale of remaining properties at auction for agriculture, forestry, or mining purposes.

Ticked

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"Daddy, what is this thing crawling on me?!"

"Aerial spraying knocked the ticks back for a year, but local municipalities report that the costs are too high for more than occasional use. Apple farmers report their worst year ever, as beekeepers fled, wild bees perished, and few flowers were pollinated."

"Cities grew this year, as rural residents fled their homes to avoid the tick plague and the costs of our chemical warfare against them. Unfortunately, bedbugs continue to spread in the New York Metropolitan area, though they bear fewer diseases than the ticks."

"I'm sorry, sir, but that dog needs to move. Household pets are no longer permitted in the Tick Exclusion Area."

"Feral cat populations have exploded in the Tick Exclusion Zone as state workers bring in strays to try to knock down the mouse population supporting ticks with an especially virulent strain of the Lyme Disease Complex. Residents are advised to avoid contact with these cats, particularly feeding or petting them."

"A surprising number of former New Yorkers are moving to northern Ontario, looking for places where their nemesis, Ixodes scapularis, can't follow them."

"Governor Clinton (IV) announced today that an area from the northern limits of Armonk to Kinderhook to Schenectady to eastern Rochester to Hornell has been closed to human settlement. Only temporary workers are allowed in by permit, as well as motorists on the Thruway. All people departing this area who stopped outside of an approved sprayed rest area must undergo an insecticidal shower or bath."

Syracuse incubators

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Congratulations, Syracuse! We have triumphed.

40 years of non-stop progress since 2010 quintupled the city's population to almost 750,000.

We transformed our skyline with building after building and replaced a blighted highway with a glorious park.

We preserved pieces of our past amidst the new glory.

Our canal and railroad heritage is not merely preserved but active once again. The Syracuse Inner Harbor buzzes with activity once more, receiving grain from the west and shipping out our manufactures. Our railyards in DeWitt and Jamesville have grown four times in the last two decades, and even the now quiet Thruway has more activity around Syracuse than anywhere else.

Some of our gains resemble those of other cities. The suburbs' slow reversion to farmland brought us more residents, as did the move north after the hurricane seasons of 2026 and 2037. We learned from our neighbor, Utica, of the advantages of welcoming refugees, many of whom proved critical in re-establishing our industries.

How did we outpace Buffalo, Rochester, and Albany? Our incubator spaces proved crucial. We reduced the cost of starting a business or moving a business to Syracuse. Slashing the cost of doing business by making sure there was more than enough business space and few limitations on using it transformed our downtown, making it easy for businesses of all sizes to thrive. As businesses started roaring, incentives for urban builders to rapidly expand the housing stock similarly made it easy for people to move here in those critical years of growth.

Our growth rate has fallen, as the number of people moving has fallen, but our incubators continue to roar. A second generation of entrepreneurs, inspired by the genius they saw in their youth, is taking the reins. We produce goods, ideas, and knowledge at a pace never seen outside of the megalopolises on the coast.

And, of course, SU just won the NCAA basketball crown - again.

Will we continue to triumph?

Great Lakes Compact

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A constitution written in stone

MML - BUFFALO

DULUTH * MILWAUKEE * DETROIT * BUFFALO * OTTAWA * QUEBEC

REGIONAL CAPITALS OF THE ST. LAWRENCE.

NATIONAL CAPITAL TO FLOW WEST TO EAST EVERY TWO YEARS AND THEN RETURN WEST. NATIONAL PARLIAMENT ABLE TO MODIFY LOCAL LEGISLATION WHEN AND ONLY WHEN IN SESSION IN THAT REGION. ELECTIONS EVERY NOVEMBER.

ONE LEGISLATOR PER 100 000 CITIZENS. LINES DRAWN BY NATIONAL JUDGES.

DEFEND OUR WATERSHED. STRENGTHEN OUR PEOPLE. TEACH OUR CHILDREN.

MML - BUFFALO

Spalding Gray's nightmare

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"They were like a hundred thousand rednecks rallying in New Paltz, New York, ninety miles above the City, about to march in." - Spalding Gray, "Swimming to Cambodia", 1989.

From the diaspora -

These have been dark decades. Many of us perished, many of us in our desperation created yet more disaster. Our masters have been brutal, and we in turn have shown that same brutality to each other.

There are fewer of us now, better able to support ourselves on these meager hills. We have slowly, painfully, sadly learned the art of extracting food in a world of hot sun and harsh rain, and how to keep it through the blizzards while we hide from the snow.

Our stories live on, even when we don't, so long as we share them. Time and experience have softened our fate, but we must never forget our loss. Our masters plead with us to forget, but in this we can never surrender. As long as we live we will not forget the Winter March, the Tappan Zee deception, the years of suffering that followed.

Time is short and our children are few but we will survive to take back what was ours, to bring justice to those who gave none to us.

Preserve your strength,
Alexander G. Sullivan

The Drowning

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[by Thomas Shelley]

In the deep still of the night Riley's heart was racing. He was gently rocking Sylvia back and forth in a tightly tangled embrace. Sylvia was still sobbing uncontrollably. It was the dream again. It was always the same:

Sylvia is clinging to her mother who is clinging to something. Sheets of lightening illuminate enormous waves and a terrifying sky formed of wind and rain. There is a huge gust, a crashing wave and Sylvia's mother is gone. Sylvia screams, "Mommie, Mommie, Mommie!" Her mother's distant refrain of Sylvia's name is her last word.

Sylvia awakened terrified and screaming at this point in the dream. Riley knows that this will go on for a long time.

Most of the young people that crowd the town are refugees from what is call "The Drowning". The sudden rise of sea level took everyone by surprise. The increase in global warming was supposed to cause a gradual rise of about three feet or one meter by 2100. A series of unforeseen events caused a much more rapid rise in sea level - nearly 50 feet (15 meters) in most places by mid-century. Since nearly 90 percent of the world's population lived at or near sea level in the early 21st Century, the sudden rise in sea level along with other deleterious events contributed to a catastrophic loss of life on a global scale. By 2100 only 680 million souls survived of the nearly 9 billion persons alive prior to "The Drowning". Ironically, or perhaps not, the 7-1/2 percent of the human population that survived turns out to be the true carrying capacity of the Earth.

Sylvia collapsed into a fitful sleep. Riley lie awake, still rattled by Sylvia's recurring dream, wondering what the new day would bring.

Incendiary Fence

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I don't know if this piece of paper will hold up or if anyone will find it, but maybe it will help DEP understand what they're up against.

I joined up ten years ago. I'd survived three tours of duty overseas, figured God must be on my side, and was tired of looking at concrete and drywall. DEP meant adventure, something else to look at, and survivor benefits that might let my son's saxophone get noticed by the ones who matter. He has dreams - I never really cared, I guess.

This mission started out as the usual. Satellite told us there was a problem. Permanent buildings in the 50-100 mile range from the reservoir, apparently a vandal settlement too close in, pushing the edge of the bombing zone.

Those bastards in HQ had given in to media pressure for some kind of "fair warning" when settlements were on the edge, so we set off in the chopper to take a look and drop some pamphlets. We figured they could read, but the chopper let us get in with loudspeakers too.

It was a bad idea. There were lots of 'em down there, and they ran around making it pretty clear they'd seen and heard us. The wind was picking up a bit, but suddenly the tail of the chopper - I don't know, it seemed to fall off and we were spinning on our way down. Maybe it broke, maybe they shot it somehow. Chuck died at the bottom, but they pulled me out.

I warned them that messing with the DEP was a bad idea, and that the best they could do was leave me with the chopper and get the hell out of there. "Take me with you," I said, "and you'll get bombed wherever you go."

They just grinned, took my communicator, and boarded me up in this room. They sure built it tight for something thrown together in a summer under tree cover. I smell a bit of smoke - maybe they're still around, or maybe they just left the fires going to make it seem like that.

There's the plane - it won't be long now. DEP - take care of my wife and kid!

The Trio

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"So picking up from last week, when was the Last Legislature? Michelle?"

"It was in 2035. They all got infighted."

"Close! It was in 2035, and a majority of them were indicted for corruption. The HSR contracts and their secret stockholdings made it look really bad for them when the project collapsed. The prosecutors got the lists of who'd been given what. The New York State Legislature had no clear process for replacing all of those people, and couldn't conduct business."

"Anyone know what happened next? Samuel?"

"Governor Yerkes had a convention."

"That's right. Instead of electing a new legislature, voters elected delegates. Those delegates gave up completely on the legislature and gave us the Trio instead. Can anyone tell me how the Trio gets chosen?"

"We pick one every three years. But they can't live too close together."

"That's right, Marcy. Members of the Trio have to have three million people between their homes, and they have to have lived in those homes for at least ten years. They can't move around to run from a different area. Can anyone explain what the Trio is in charge of? Joel?"

"The Trio makes state law, runs the bureaucracy, and acts as the top court in the state."

"Are you reading that out of your textbook? No? All right, that's correct. The old functions of the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches are concentrated in these three seats. Each one directs different parts of the government, but they all have to come together to agree on a budget. How do we keep them from getting too powerful? Michelle?"

"They have to take a year off the Trio when their term ends. Only two have ever gotten back on, I think."

"Well, we may see a third this November, but yes, that's right. Between the distance rule and the one-term rule we've had regular changes of power."

"Yeah, but Upstate only gets in once in a while."

"Joel, I didn't call on you that time."

"I know, but why do they have to do that to us? Why did they only say three million people apart when the state has 25 million people?"

"That question won't be on the test, Joel."