Fish

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Our Most Personal Memorial

Today is a day of sorrow. Twenty years ago today, a conspiracy using common elements such as fertilizer, gasoline and a truck led to untold grief and devastation. The bombing of the Murrah Federal Building occurred right up I35 from where I write this. Twenty years ago sounds like a lifetime, but it also seems like the blink of an eye. One hundred thirty six souls were given up to heaven that day, many of them children in a ground level daycare center. I can't fathom the type of selfish, deranged evil that perpetrates this kind of crime. We've seen worse since this date, but normal people no matter what their politics are all baffled by what drives someone into seeing humans as points on a scorecard.

That being said, the Oklahoma City Memorial in terms of its setting, its scope locally, nationally and historically, is probably one of the most well defined and poignant memorials in our nation. We have countless memorials that encompass large Neo-Classical structures that might speak in terms of history, but that do not touch us emotionally. Who doesn't understand the story of an empty chair? The 168 empty chairs are chairs left vacant at Thanksgiving dinners, weddings, graduations and all the other family celebrations that get little national acclaim but which resonate on a ground level with the majority of us.

As I understand it, every year the families return to leave flowers, photos and toys for fathers who will never come home from work, children who will never grow up, wives that will never hug their children again. While no such absence ever truly heals, the memorial has created a type of community where their memories transcend the limitations that seem to so divide us these days. Why is it that we can only pull together in a crisis? When I watch these now grown children lay wreaths for fathers who have gone away and babies that will always be young I hope they can find a way to change this toxicity in our society. I'm not sure what it will take, but for the moment watching these families share their moments provides a bittersweet backdrop to what we have become.

Oklahoma City 20 Years Later

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Inmates Run Asylum, Film at 11

I am not sure how things got this disjointed or why things got this disjointed or who is responsible. All I know is that Thursday morning I'm supposed to facilitate a meeting of all the art teachers in our high school cluster from K through high school. Because our former superintendent, Mr. All Apple All The Time, resigned/retired at midyear, suddenly all the "we will use all Apple products even if it breaks the bank" mantra has gone away. Now we're in a time warp (insert Rocky Horror imagery here)and going back to the LAST trend which was "Understanding By Design." This is what preceded the glorified, overpriced Venn diagrammography of the last trend before we began as a district to worship at the altar of Apple.

We have a coordinator whose authority covers Dance, Theater and Art. She claims to have knowledge of all of them, but in reality we only see her maybe twice a year for fleeting seconds of time as she dashes in our classrooms while classes are in session, throws some bauble at us and then scuttles a hasty retreat to the more friendly theater environs. I didn't start out disliking her. I was overjoyed to have someone to intercede for us, to champion our causes or at least to make us less invisible to the powers that be. I was naive.

This year has been what less elegant people would calls a cl*st*rf*ck. I don't use that kind of language, but it doesn't mean I'm not thinking it. From the earliest part of the year, every action demanded of us as a discipline was scheduled on days when we were doing semester exams or standardized testing. I realize the folks in administration don't have enough to do, but when I'm stuck proctoring exams for three days, asking me for an inventory of my equipment does not endear me to anyone. Even such a banal thing as our district art show collapsed under the weight of competing causes such as our State competition, Scholastic Arts and Writing Nationals, and all the hoopla that goes with sending in college admissions forms. It was too much in a short period. Plus it is ridiculous to have an annual district high school show in the middle of the year when half of ours students haven't even been in an art class yet.

It didn't have to be like this. We have means of communicating. But instead of directly telling us what's going on, the coordinator relied on a committee she formed. If it was a group of like minded folks, it would be a great thing, but we have a couple of long time teachers in wealthy, mostly white schools (one on national TV for showing racist signs at a basketball game) and they don't play nice. Because of our different demographics and wealth levels, we can't magically pull funding out of our hats. In a similar fashion, we can't demand students show up because most of their parents work weekends. Our kids work just as hard and deserve better. Heck, I have four kids heading to RISD, two to Parsons, one to Pratt, one to Memphis and one to Carnegie Mellon. Yet for all the praise these kids get, you would think they had learned to tie their shoes by themselves. But when the other schools win even slight honors, the world, and district, must stop and admire. It's not right. Due to this attitude, nobody tells anyone, anything until the last minute.

This leads me to cycle back to the first graph. On Friday, while I was grading finals, logging in grades, I get an email at 3:30 in the afternoon demanding to know what I was presenting at the In-Service. I had only gotten word an hour earlier that middle school teachers as well as teachers from the tech center would be coming. I didn't have time to banter and told her that I would figure it out over the weekend. She got upset, demanded a meeting, claimed I was disrespectful. Perhaps so. But I tend not to respect people who get paid more than I do, but DO NOT DO THEIR JOBS. What's even more laughable is that when I asked my Assistant Principal what WE were doing in the morning before the presentation, she said "I don't know. I don't think anybody knows. It's like administration suddenly realized they had an In-Service on the calendar and they didn't plan anything so they're shoving it on us and now we seem to be passing the buck to you guys." She really said that. I appreciate the honesty.

So I will do this presentation along with our new hire (who is awesome) and we will discuss Understanding By Design and we will figure out goals for fifth grade art and high school art one and we will submit our ideas on implementing change. Not that anything will change. But at least they can't say I didn't do my job.

It just makes me kind of sick to think that even if I do an amazing job (and frankly my lesson plan on this sounds lightyears better than anything we've had the last five years!) I will only be perpetuating the job life of this really unfortunate leader.

Monday, March 23, 2015

What In the World Are They Thinking?

Two stories from our local news:
Teen Threatens to Blow Up Graduation
Middle Schooler Writes Graphic Story Describing How He would Attack and Kill Classmates

In the first story, a 17 year old Hispanic honor student is immediately, and I think correctly, arrested when three classmates came forward and told authorities of his threats on social media to plant IED's at the graduation ceremony. In this case, either because his family wasn't affluent, or because he wasn't a student who had special education dispensation, he was arrested. End of story.

The second story is more problematic. A middle school student posted online a graphic, detailed and specific ELEVEN CHAPTER story on how he would attack, kill and molest other students. He had been removed from the school in the Fall term for undisclosed reasons but re-enrolled in January. The story was discovered and the specific students were alerted, but the general population, including parents, didn't know of the situation until after Spring Break. 

Stop for a minute. How would you feel if your son or daughter was on this kid's "kill list?' I know that my kid wouldn't be attending school until the student in question was removed, but the authorities are saying it's a free speech issue.

Then come the other excuses:
He's been bullied because of a physical disability.
He's a special education student.
The tacit message is that because of ADA and the wealth of the parents, this kid can do just about anything he wants. This is a message saying that the needs of one student should outweigh the peace of mind of every other student and staff member. This is what ADA has wrought.

What was meant as a means of making sure that kids capable of learning with assistance to overcome physical disabilities has become a catchall bullyclub for providing outrageous and expensive education in the same public schools struggling to pass average kids in regular subjects. When I walk down the hall and see one teacher with one student all day I honestly wonder what is the purpose? When I witness special education students dropped into regular education classrooms without aides, without help and without consideration of the needs of the rest of the class I have to wonder at what point the parents of other kids say enough. I've witnessed how a lawyered up special ed student's parents can bully and cajole, and yes bribe, officials to do whatever they want in regards to their child's education whether it is appropriate or not. I've seen how a six foot four bipolar out of control can bully a teacher and peers. Is being a special education student an excuse?

I hear far too many people making excuses for outrageous and potentially dangerous behavior. Does anyone remember that they tried to justify both Columbine and Newtown on bullying? Isn't it possible that emotionally disturbed students may view anyone who doesn't suffer as they do as a bully-thereby justifying their own unchecked rage? 

Let's say that the school let's this kid fester in his self-created rage. Let's say he gets hold of instructions for an explosive or poison or brings a weapon? Would the school be willing to take the blame for failing to stop this student when they could? Would the parents? I'm sorry, I want all kids to feel safe and all kids to get the education they need. But what has happened in order to serve very few is hurting many students in many ways. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

This Article Confirms Everything I've Said About Education for the Last 5 Years.

Fortune Magazine published this story and it doesn't strike me as surprising. Over the last five years, since the imposition and increase of technology by our administration and by the country at large, I have seen a reduction in work ethic, retention, writing and reading abilities. We no longer teach cursive so there is no motor memory of writing. The assumption by the powers that be is there will always be a calculator or a computer accessible to do the mundane tasks of basic math or spelling. This erosion of basic skills is resonating through the workforce. Parents who pushed computers at early ages over reading kids bedtime stories are now faced with young adults who do not read for pleasure or enrichment and possibly cannot read on a literate level at all.

Yet what is the drumbeat we hear? TECHnology TECHnology TECHnology....how many vocational programs were gutted to buy into the rarified coursework of Animation or Graphic Design? How many kids fully capable of hands on skills in a variety of trades such as electrical repair, plumbing, auto repair, cosmetology, cabinetry and more have found themselves instead in classes they do not need and do not want? The myth that every kid is going to college is a fallacy. Every kid doesn't belong in college. Many kids go to college only to fail and end up in dead end jobs with a large student loan in tow. This is no way to improve an economy.

I guarantee that in China or Japan or Korea or India or Russia they are not teaching their children to do math using computers. I promise you that these nations also celebrate their complex language structure by requiring students learn to write and communicate. These are skills that are vanishing from a large part of the population. Ironically we are removing the very exercises that would instill deeper retention. Cursive writing is used to help dyslexic students internalize the shapes of letters. Rote memorization of multiplication tables affects a different part of the brain than using a calculator and allows for deeper understanding of the PROCESS of multiplication.

As I have said before, technology is a good servant, but a bad master. Every sci fi movie alludes to this fear of technology actually countermanding the desires of humans. Perhaps we are on the threshold of that becoming reality. When you go to the doctor, the younger ones often spend more time looking at the computer than the patient. For that reason Johns Hopkins has medical students taking art history classes to teach them to OBSERVE THE PATIENT. How many medical mistakes have occurred because of the failure to note the reaction of the patient over the steps of protocol?
We have young mothers sitting at playgrounds enthralled with Angry Birds while their children are out of control. We have students watching movies during class. What is more the overlay of social media on a population that has not been taught basic social skills has led to most of the angst we've witnesses in society over the last few years. Can you name one incident-political, social, legal or economic-that wasn't in some way by social media?

It's time to stop this nonsense. I'm not saying to forbid media, but it's time to stop just giving in to trends. Frankly I think Apple and Google and Facebook and all the other manufacturers and websites share the blame for the sick dissolution of social discourse. And make no mistake, for all you liberals out there, none of these companies do it for any other reason beyond making a buck. So while hipsters walk around talking on IPhones about how high their student loans are and complaining about how they don't have any money, step back and think about all the things we have now that are branded and promoted and therefore deemed popular. Is Starbucks really better than a cup of coffee you make yourself? 

Such weakminded behavior leads to some of the mob/gang/group atrocities we've witnessed online. How are the SAE's any different than wilding mobs attacking innocent people at a midwestern fair? How desperate are these kids to find some magic pill that can insure their success the way Mommy and Daddy did when they were in public school? While both are vile and nasty and racist and violent, this doesn't spring full born from their own heads. Have you listened to the lyrics of popular music? I ban those songs in my classroom and yet I have had heated discussions with students who think the n-word is allowed simply because they themselves are black. I think bad, rude, insensitive language goes across the boards. You cannot permit some people to use the words with impunity and then get outraged when someone uses them. NOBODY SHOULD BE USING THESE WORDS. Stop trying to be hip and cool by joining into activities that are mean, dangerous and simply unnecessary. And the kids on the bus using the n-word in Oklahoma are every much as vile as the gangs who assault innocent people on the street for the sake of "fun." 

By the way, lest you think I am out of touch, much of this is fueled by things my own kids-ranging from 25 to 30-have told me about their peers. Every week it's a new complaint about coworkers that are hunted down by bill collectors or people who run up credit card bills at restaurants leaving friends to cover the bill. These dime a day millionaires have bought into the Oprahization of America believing that their mere existence qualifies them for the best of everything. Nobody deserves the best of everything, especially if they can't pay for it. 

Here's the column and link. Read it. Share it. This is important.

Millenial Fail

Surprised? So were the researchers who tested and compared workers in 23 countries.

We hear about the superior tech savvy of people born after 1980 so often that we tend to assume it must be true. But is it?
Researchers at Princeton-based Educational Testing Service (ETS) expected it to be when they administered a test called the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). Sponsored by the OECD, the test was designed to measure the job skills of adults, aged 16 to 65, in 23 countries.
When the results were analyzed by age group and nationality, ETS got a shock. It turns out, says a newreport, that Millennials in the U.S. fall short when it comes to the skills employers want most: literacy (including the ability to follow simple instructions), practical math, and — hold on to your hat — a category called “problem-solving in technology-rich environments.”
Not only do Gen Y Americans lag far behind their overseas peers by every measure, but they even score lower than other age groups of Americans.
Take literacy, for instance. American Millennials scored lower than their counterparts in every country that participated except Spain and Italy. (Japan is No. 1.) In numeracy, meaning the ability to apply basic math to everyday situations, Gen Yers in the U.S. ranked dead last.
Okay, but what about making smart use of technology, where Millennials are said to shine? Again, America scored at the bottom of the heap, in a four-way tie for last place with the Slovak Republic, Ireland, and Poland.
Even the best-educated Millennials stateside couldn’t compete with their counterparts in Japan, Finland, South Korea, Belgium, Sweden, or elsewhere. With a master’s degree, for example, Americans scored higher in numeracy than peers in just three countries: Ireland, Poland, and Spain. Altogether, the top U.S. Gen Yers, in the 90thpercentile, “scored lower than their counterparts in 15 countries,” the report notes, “and only scored higher than their peers in Spain.”
“We really thought [U.S.] Millennials would do better than the general adult population, either compared to older coworkers in the U.S. or to the same age group in other countries,” says Madeline Goodman, an ETS researcher who worked on the study. “But they didn’t. In fact, their scores were abysmal.”
What does that mean for U.S. employers hiring people born since 1980? Goodman notes that hiring managers shouldn’t overestimate the practical value of a four-year degree. True, U.S. Millennials with college credentials did score higher on the PIAAC than Americans with only a high school diploma (albeit less well than college grads in most other countries).
“But a degree may not be enough,” Goodman says, to prove that someone is adept with basic English, can do what she calls “workaday math,” or has the ability to use technology in a job. Curious about how the PIAAC measures those skills, or how you’d score yourself? Check out a few sample math questions, or take the whole test.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Snow in March in Texas

I'm a Texas native.
I've grown up here and seen a wide range of weather from hurricanes to tornadoes to storms that would fry the normal person's hair.But one thing was always pretty consistent and that was the change of weather during the year. I don't remember one March day from my childhood where it snowed in Texas. I don't remember the kind of weather we have endured the last five years. What's interesting is that while the green types keep saying this is all evidence of Global Warming, our winters have been longer and colder in north Texas in the past five to ten years. Even when I was in high school back in the 70's winter centered from late December through mid-February. Now we're seeing the situation that is so confused that the bulbs I plant after the first frost have come up trying to bloom just in time to get frozen by one or two unprecedented winter storms.

My hypothesis is that the magnetic poles, which are not fixed, are shifting as they do from time to time. This in turn is resulting in altered weather patterns for the entire northern hemisphere. But, that being said, this is not the much ballyhooed Global Warming nor it is something we can control.

This year, in north Texas, we've had almost as much snow as we have ever had. My backyard featured seven inches of snow that fell last night, which was on top of nearly an inch of ice. I would say this isn't normal Texas weather for March, but for the last five years or so this type of weather has creeped into the Spring Break calendar. Tonight it will be 21 degrees here which might be normal for some Rust Belt states, but decidedly colder than history would have it for Dallas. Perhaps hell has truly frozen over. Given what's gone on lately, it wouldn't surprise me.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Tax Reality

My son broke his ankle last January. This was followed by a series of economic hurdles that included having to pay $5000 out of pocket just to get admitted to the hospital. After the surgery-two plates and sixteen screws-my son missed nearly two months of full time work. It was simply impossible for him to do his job as a high end bike sales rep. He couldn't drive. He couldn't stand up all day. But his company held his job and created opportunities for him to contribute. The end bill was around $45K for surgery and two and a half days of hospitalization.

This is where the trouble began. The nurses and doctors didn't wean him from the IV pain meds until he was being wheeled out the door. Because I teach school and had already missed several days to care for him, his older brother picked him up. My son suffered outrageous withdrawals, for which nobody seemed to have answers. He endured the agony for four days. Then we began getting bills. Although the hospital that the surgeon used had the brand name of a hospital on my son's insurance, because it was 51% owned by the doctors working there, we had to haggle to get the amount covered. We had no choice really. He broke the ankle on New Year's Day and the longer we waited, the worse the recovery would be. There were only two doctors from a list of 20 given by his insurance who could see him. Likewise, we had to either choose the facility offered or risk waiting two to three weeks. Now I ask you, does that sound like prudent and immediate care? But I digress.

Fast forward to this week. All my son's papers were in order (sounds menacing doesn't it) for filing taxes. He did get compensation from his company's accident insurance policy to cover his out of pocket expenses. He still ended up missing two months of work and had to make up for lost income. But when he went to file taxes, he was told that the compensation he used to pay off the hospital and doctor would be TAXED. So even though he ended up spending 12% of his annual gross income on medical bills, my son, who work retail, who has only recently made enough to afford to move out and live on his own, will owe money. When he told the person doing the taxes effectively that he would not be filing, she replied "but you make more than lots of people."

This is how conservatives are made.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

I Do My Job-Why Can't Other People Do Theirs?

A valid question.
I'm a high school teacher with all the job responsibility and paperwork that entails. I make lesson plans,  grade projects, call parents, go to meetings, make arrangements for competitions, collect permission slips, and on and on and on. I do this year in and year out.

We got a coordinator that we share with theater and dance.
She's handsomely paid.
For what I am not sure.
I call and she's never in her office. She allows her pet teacher to run meetings which means every event is designed to fit nicely with that teacher's schedule and not necessarily ours. This year, because this teacher wanted to win all the top places in our district show, they had the once a year, district, high school art show in late January. Never mind that we just got a new crop of classes and kids. Ignore that our regional show is coming up shorting. Forget that we have GRADES due-and all of that in the same week.

Fast forward to now. Teacher in question did win all top prizes-I'm not sure how when my kids got first in painting and first in drawing, but whatever. And Monday is Open House and Eighth Grade Roundup where we talk kids into taking art-and our "art coordinator" decided it would be a good thing for us to take down the show in the 90 minutes between school getting out and the event. We physically cannot do it. It takes 30 minutes just to drive over there and another hour or so to take down the art then 30 minutes to get back. That means no break from 7:30 am until 9:00 pm.

I already have high blood pressure. I simply cannot continue doing this kind of thrill kill schedule.