Saturday, March 30, 2013

For the Kids

Another cheating scandal broke yesterday. Another Superintendent of public schools fired and this time indicted as well. Another example of the misguided policy that passes for education reform. This one could serve as a textbook example. (pun intended) This one featured the deliberate erasing of answers and changing wrong answers to correct ones. Imagine a principal calling in a select group of faculty, calling them the "chosen ones" and then secretly meeting to doctor up the test results. Bad enough right? But then, there is money involved too. Don't forget that the dunderheads that advocate this kind of high stakes testing also advocate merit pay for teachers who achieve high test scores and schools that improve dramatically. Some drama. In my view, the real tragedy is the testing itself. Testing is not teaching. If so much time and energy is spent trying to get students to regurgitate measurable bits of information, one can only wonder what gets sacrificed in the process. In reading the details of this latest scandal, one thing that jumps out is the behavior of one particular principal. Apparently this woman was a real enforcer. She is reported to have had her entire faculty fearful, paranoid, dare I say depressed. Reminds me on one of the chapter titles in Kenneth Stamp's major book on Slavery, The Peculiar Institution: To Make Them Stand in Fear. Reminds me too of a middle school principle I encountered last year. After humiliating a student teacher in what resembled an inquisition about how much learning was going on in the classroom (believe me there was plenty) How could people who are in a profession where nurturing and patience, and wisdom are so crucial be so insensitive. When you ask them, they will no doubt tell you what former Atlanta Superintendent, Beverly L.Hall and the other 34 educators indicted with her will say. They will tell you that "do it for the kids." This Just In: In a related story, it was also announced yesterday that all Seattle teachers who participated in an anti-testing boycott would not be punished for their actions. They will not be penalized with wage deductions or disciplinary action. They do it for the kids too.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Keys to Higher Education

I was watching a young woman pack up her laptop after doing a bit of what appeared to be school work.  Alternating between a spiral notebook, she was double checking something on the computer screen with a bit of frenzy.  Probably had a class to make on time or catch a bus.  Since it was a nice little Macbook Pro, the older white one, I wanted to ask about the size of the screen.  I did, after explaining that we're looking for a new computer mostly for my wife, but one compatible with my Macbook.   She then took a few unsolicited seconds to tell me  how fantastic the little laptop was.  She was gushing with praise.  I explained that I fully understood and then she added, " This little computer got me through college.  I really think you should get one."  Sold.
After she scrambled off I began to think about college with a computer.  With the exception of some graduate work, and of course everything I do now in working with Education grad students, how wonderful it must have been to go through college with a computer.
Even daring to have this conversation runs the risk of waxing nostalgic about the way it was back in the day.  I don't want to do that.  I just want t give a little shout out to the portable Remington that cranked out my papers, my take home exams, and my college forms, letters, correspondence, poems, plays, and accompanying envelopes.
The blue plastic writing machine saw me through some tough years.  Political assassinations, social upheaval, and unpopular war danced through those keys.  Ribbons of prose detailing British and American Literature, Ethnic studies and Social psychology.  Historiography, my undergraduate thesis and even the first few years of my teaching career all made possible by that little gem.
Typing a paper was often about the paper, literally. All the choices,the onionskin, the erasable, the color, the non-smudge, and oh the margins! Of course, after typing, we couldn't save anything.  Typing often meant re-typing.  In the end, I couldn't even save the little blue workhorse.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Laugh Track

Imagine a still life in cold remedies. Boxes of pills, for sore throat, runny nose, coughing. Day and Night Quils. Tissue boxes, aspirin, three brands of throat lozenge, lemons, honey and a couple of bottles of fine Kentucky bourbon. This bug that entered our house took it all in stride and has finally decide to hit the road. None too soon.

 Of all the medicines, sometimes even pure sunshine, which we get on occasion, there is one that always does the job. It's long been called the "best medicine" and in many ways that is arguably the truth. Humor...laughter...finding the lighter side of that which seems permanently so dark. Scientifically, we know that various enzymes and brain chemicals get released when we laugh. Isn't it wonderful that we can literally save our lives. A good hearty laugh, at anything, is a great antidote for stress, which in turn in an antidote for the ravages of stress. In my misery this week, I lusted after a few good laughs. I sought the humor that is ever present even in this dark time of national malaise, unending wars, mass shootings, income tax, and the encroaching impact of reality TV. A couple of theraputic gems that caught my eye started the week off with a smile. How about the federal government for acting the fool and inducing a good laugh. Always dependable. In reading Rachel Maddow's new book Drift I came across a little story she uses as a metaphor for her larger thesis about how the U.S. foreign policy with regard to deploying the military in war has drifted from it's once sturdy base. Maddow first paints a picture of the small New England town where she lives. She relates how the town fire truck, although dependable, was upgraded after receiving a grant from the Office of Homeland Security. So wonderful and big was the new fire engine that the old firehouse could no longer house the new equipment. That's right, another federal grant and larger firehouse. Is the town any safer? Maddow asks. I'm sure there are even "funnier" examples of federal spending in the wake of 9/11. Here's another: It's no secret I love horse racing. I love even more, all the folklore and the subculture connected with the sport. Thoroughbred horse names all go through the Jockey Club and must be approved and screened in advance. You can't name your horse after an already famous one, or using any words or terminology that might be deemed inappropriate or offensive. But people persevere and now and then a name gets through because a few syllables are run together, or a piece of slang or the right initials come together for the desired effect. Last week, Michele Wrona, track announcer at Golden Gate Fields, was faced with a name that he just couldn't leave along. Depending on how the horse performed, he was ready. So, when a colt by the name of You're a Nation broke from the gate, Wrona knew he'd be saying something more like "urination." By the time the horses turned for home and were halfway down the home stretch, Wrona piped up, "And You're a Nation has hit the wall." Can't wait for his next race. Wonder what happens when/if he ever wins?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Cold and Colder

This month is easing out the door. I've had no voice for the last few days due to one of those colds that hang out at mortuaries. Easy to see how one could just deteriorate after a couple of weeks of hacking and sneezing. No strength, hard to breathe, no appetite ...for anything... So this is how it ends? Still, things get done, Spring hovers then drifts away and dissolves into the promise to finish those blossoms now tugging on stems and branches all over town. Next month will be better. Next month will bring baseball and a fishing license, and perhaps a car was that will last for a week. For now it's another variation on chicken soup, convulsive nights, drag your ass to here and there mornings and afternoon naps. I'm not sure this is just a bad cold. Everything is so ovr the top anymore, can't even slip out of a cold in a couple of days anymore.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Keeping It Weird

Drive around Portland Oregon for any length of time and you'll see a phrase displayed all over town.  "Keep Portland Weird."  It's on bumper stickers, on telephone poles, and on the windows of the city's many used clothing stores.  Re-purposed clothing, I should say.  People here are proud of being weird.  Weird goes beyond looking and acting abnormal, it implies tolerance too.
For the most part, Portland is weird.  It unfortunately has serious bouts with intolerance, but time and the willingness to change will eventually help out in that department.
It is not all that uncommon to see the weird that people here feel the need to advocate.  Once I had the good fortune of taking some friends from out of town around my neighborhood and we chanced to see the unicycle riding bag piper who often plays the theme from Star Wars on his nightly rounds.
Weird Portlanders often push gender boundaries.  They do this with hair and clothing most often, but it is not all that out of the ordinary to have a transgendered grocery clerk or mechanic.  I'm certainly not saying that's weird, just that sometimes the weirdness comes with gender ambiguity.  Not that there is anything wrong with that.
Yesterday I saw a person in one of my local grocery stores that really typifies what I'm trying to say here.  A thin twenty something wearing Doc Martin boots with black-white striped leggings that were ripped in many places.  This Portlander had on a bright orange hooded sweat shirt and a dilapidated blue and yellow lace tutu.  Some of the lace was hanging on.  Because the hood was up I couldn't see said person's face.  When I finally did, it was impossible to tell the gender, not that it matters.  I did notice quite stark facial features: a large, pointed nose, gaunt cheeks, long chin.
Whenever I think of Portland's little motto and see someone who is able to live up to the challenge I think about a nice warm, late Spring day in my senior year in college.  I was listening to someone speak  while reclining on the sprawling lawn of Kerkhoff Hall at UCLA. There was a small green podium designated for free speech there. It was 1969 and a young representative of the counter culture was positing about what young people 40 to 50 years in the future would be like.  What would be the "drug" of choice-would it be electrodes implanted in the head?  What would we, as children of the 60s have to deal with in the role of parents and grandparents?  We weren't thinking about the addictive powers of technology that day.  When I see Portland's finest weird folks I'm often transported back to that moment.  You know, my friend in the failing tutu would have been right at home that day on the green.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Old Now



Sometimes, when I wake up in the morning, my thoughts are clear and clearer,

 The first recognizable thought is "I'm old now."

 Old

 I find wisdom in age, I find less anxiety, more acceptance.

 Crow's feet land on my eyes; light sketches line drawings.,

 Older

 I recall seeing the newly discovered,on back pages.

 More things mean less daily,

 Still others mean more nightly,

 Oldest In rooms I enter, I'm often the most experienced.

 At what? I take the time to find out.

 Yet my experience hardly encompasses anyone.  Do I appear an other?

 Is any deep-rooted truth with me?