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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wet Dog

As a teacher in a predominately African American school I can offer a somewhat unique perspective on the controversy surrounding Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Obviously I do not condone his comments, nor is it wise to say such things when you are associated with a presidential campaign. However, then amount of press accorded these statements and the outrage in the blogosphere is a direct result of white people's ignorance.

Without regular contact with black people or viewing The Original Kings of Comedy most white people remain blissfully ignorant of the stereotypes and prejudices that African Americans have for us crackers. It just seems that everyone is astounded that someone might hate them because of the color of their skin. I've even seen the words "reverse racism" thrown about. As if pure racism can only be by whites against blacks.

White Guy #1: How dare they take our pastime of hatred. Isn't bad enough that they take our jobs with their affirmative action?

White Guy #2: Man I knew this was coming ever since Wesley Snipes insisted that, "White men can't jump." So what if I can't dunk. I can stand in one place and shoot three-pointers all day long.

In the interest of education I want to let all white people know that certain segments of the population think that we smell like wet dog. This is especially true after we have been jogging in our shorts in January.

We are too passive with our children and let them walk all over us.

There are more just ask a black person if you know one.

The thing that amazes me is that not only do white people seem to be unaware of these stereotypes, but they actually are offended by them. For the most part these are empty threats. They don't affect our ability to get a job or get an education. We are not denied loans because we don't have rhythm. We aren't excluded from any social clubs or neighborhoods because we wear crocs. It just doesn't matter.

The statements made by Rev. Wright say more about our society than they do about white people or the government. Rev. Wright and others like him live in a society where the government and authority figures are inherently white and untrustworthy. The idea that hard work will lead to the American dream is just a flat out lie. It is no wonder that conspiracy theories abound in oppressed minorities.

All this outrage just tells me one thing. Nobody is listening. Nobody is talking. And it seems like nobody cares. The recent shooting in Kirkwood, MO is further evidence of the breakdown in communication. We could write off this event and Rev. Wright's comments as products of the fringe, but I think they indicate a much deeper systemic breakdown in communication.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Steep Grade: Use Caution

As I have written before I am already concerned that "high standards" will initiate an avalanche of homework to coming pouring down on my son. Since he frequently trips over imaginary objects on the sidewalk, performs dance routines that make Elaine Benes look like Josephine Baker, and thinks that his zombie-robot impression is the funniest thing in the world, the chances of him avoiding a snowball let alone an avalanche seems highly unlikely. Besides, the teacher or principal that shouted "high standards" and caused the cavalcade of monotony should be to blame.

Now it seems that there is an even larger disaster perched on the 4th grade horizon. I just attended an informational meeting for my sons first year of kindergarten. Luckily, there does not seem to be a grading scale for students in grades K-3, but in the fourth grade it lunges at the children with the ferocity of a rabid tiger with a borderline personality that woke up on the wrong side of the bed and didn't eat a well balanced breakfast. The scale is rife with lunacy, but suffice it to say that a 69% is an F. If the weatherman told you that there was a 69% chance for rain, would you take an umbrella? Though you would question his adamant refusal to round numbers, you would most definitely take the umbrella. If you had a 69% chance of winning at a casino, wouldn't you empty the bank account and wager it all on red 29. (This may not be the best comparison. I have to admit, I don't know craps.) If the doctor told you that there was a 69% chance of you dying from complications during surgery, wouldn't you call your lawyer to make sure that the will you made during the unfortunate "drinking period" didn't bequeath your life savings to a cat that died fifteen years ago? Perhaps, but only if nobody more significant had surfaced in intervening time.

So I guess what I am saying is that a 69% should be passing. Anything over 60% should be passing. Arbitrarily raising the grading scale will have absolutely no effect on student performance. It is like a high jumper flopping a foot over the bar and expecting to get credit for it. Changing the metric after the event alters the reality. Proponents will say that a scoring guide given before the event will encourage the students to work harder. That is like saying that our high jumper will only put forth the minimum amount of effort to clear the bar, and hence the higher bar will create a higher jump. This type of reasoning seems to denigrate our students.

Teacher: You are obviously lazy and have no internal sense of motivation therefore I will create a ridiculous standard to measure your grade and provide the motivation you so desperately need.

Student: Gee you're right I feel like working now. Your oppressive demeanor and lack of respect for me seems to have done the trick.

We as parents and educators should have high standards for our children, but those standards should be exemplified by the rigor of the assignments not the lunacy of the grading scale. Expect students to know more and they will. So, set the bar for the high jumper, chant his name as he is about to attempt the jump, cheer him as he clears the hurdle, or slow clap as he stands to do it again, but don't move the bar up and down while he is in the middle of an Olympic competition.

I would like to add that since most teachers are compassionate people and 4th-graders are cuter than puppies wearing tutus, students' grades will be adjusted to fit the scale. In effect this actually lowers the standards. Either teachers will create assignments that the students will be successful on, or the grades will be adjusted through extra credit and magic.

The district that I work in just adjusted the grading scale. A 64% was the cut-off for a D. We lowered it to the traditional 60%. As far as I know there has not been a drastic reduction in standards as many had predicted. Everything is as it should be.

And finally, because you can never have too many analogies I would like to point out that claiming students at a certain school are better than others because of the grading scale is like saying the employees at Wal-Mart are better than those at Target because of the pay scale.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Ban Dictionaries

dic tion ar y n. A book containing the words of a language arranged alphabetically usu. with their syllabication, pronunciation, definition and etymology.

(Three minutes off task and counting. Of course now the student will have to look up syllabication, pronunciation, and etymology. Nine more minutes off task.)

syl lab i cate v.t. SYLLABIFY
syl lab i fy v.t. To form or divide into syllables.

(At this point we will assume that they know syllables)

pro nun ci a tion n. The act or manner of pronouncing words.

e ty mol o gy n. The branch of linguistics dealing with the origin and development of words, prefexes, etc.

lin guis tics n. The science of language, its origin, structure, modifications, etc., including phonetics, phonemics, morphology, syntax, and semantics.

(Now frustration has set in and the student is likely to give up rather than look up the meaning of phonetics, phonemics, morphology, syntax, and semantics.)

The next time a student asks what a word means just teach them.

Taking Testing to the Next Level

Citing dropping test scores and the imperative of No Child Left Behind, the Missouri school board announced a radical restructuring of state testing. The Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) has been in place for several years, but educators were concerned with the declining number of students scoring proficient.

"Since there is obviously no flaw in the design of the test we had to consider other sources for a our failings," says state school board member Ayn McNally. "We spent years blaming our teachers. We really thought that it was their fault."

After introducing merit pay, test scores did not improve and nearly 90% of the state's teachers were fired for underperformance. In order to hire highly qualified teachers the state used the increased revenue from the lottery and gambling boats to rent five billboards throughout the state. Within a year all but one of those were replaced with signs advertising new casinos. The last one was eventually bought by a local mega-church and simply said, "JESUS."

"We were forced to come to the conclusion that our students were not taking the test seriously enough," said McNally.

So this year new policies are in place that make the test literally life and death. The assessment program has been renamed The Executioner. Prediction are for nearly a 25% fatality rate the first year with sharp declines the next three years. Eventually the only students done in by the test would be those that natural selection would have taken care of anyway.