Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Using Dirty Tricks to Boost Test Scores - Sometimes I'm Embarrassed to be a Teacher

            Have you heard that there’s a breakfast bar that instantly makes a person write better? Of course it’s true; I read about it on the internet.

            OK, so I’m not that gullible. But many children are, and educators are not above using that vulnerability to boost the test scores that determine Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under the No Child Left Behind act.

Hagen Road Elementary School in South Florida has purchased a large quantity of “FCAT Power Bars” clearly labeled “Warning: Improves Writing Power!” These apple-flavored cereal bars will be given to 4th grade students before the writing portion of the FCAT exams this week, in the hopes that there will be a placebo effect. Students will believe that the breakfast bars will make them smarter, and so they will achieve higher results on the tests. That’s the theory, anyway.

This is a downright dirty trick. Until they grow to adulthood, these children will believe that it was a magic breakfast bar and not their own abilities that helped them to be successful on the test. What happens when they have to take another writing test and there is no special breakfast bar to make them smarter? This mind-game decreases self-confidence and sets the children up for future failure.

            Why don’t we simply teach the children to write and to use test-taking strategies, and then stand back and let them show what they’ve learned? Let them be proud of their achievements when those scores come back. Crediting success to a breakfast bar instead of a child is unconscionable.

One final note: The obvious solution to testing problems (including lying to children, correcting answers on student bubble sheets, "inadvertently" dropping failing scores when calculating AYP, etc.) is to dump NCLB and the high-stakes testing that came with it. NCLB isn't improving education, but it is making children, parents, and educators insane. Enough already.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Vaccinations: A Legitimate Function of the Government?

            On February 19th, I published a blog titled “Freedom and Liberty? What are Those?” In it, I listed several ways in which I believe the government has overstepped its Constitutional boundaries. One of these issues was government-mandated vaccinations for all children without parental consent. (This is the current law in California.) I believe that parents should have the right to decide what needles get stuck into their children’s arms. To my surprise, Chris disagreed with my stance on this particular issue.

            While he is entitled to disagree (by which I mean he is allowed to be wrong), I decided to delve into this topic in further detail. On the surface, this seems like a clear example of government interference in personal health decisions and parenting rights. I agree with Chris that it’s not quite as simple as that.

            Vaccinations have drastically reduced – or eliminated – the number of deaths from diseases that routinely killed large numbers of our not-so-distant-ancestors. Smallpox has been eradicated, as has polio. Measles, mumps, whooping cough, and rubella are nearly a bad collective memory. Vaccinations are effective.

            However, the only way vaccinations can effectively eradicate a disease is when the population at large participates. Once people have been immunized and there is no one left to catch the disease, it goes away. (I’m sure there’s a better way to explain this in scientific terms, but you understand what I mean.) It is in the best interests of the society for all members who interact with other members to be vaccinated.
            Chris believes that the needs of the many outweigh the needs – or the rights – of the individual where vaccinations are concerned. It’s a matter of public safety, he says. It’s an issue where the government needs to intervene, by force, without parent consent if necessary, to ensure that all children are vaccinated.

            But – and it’s a big BUT – I wonder if it is really necessary for the government to force a person to have vaccinations? Won’t most people choose to have their children vaccinated if they understand the horrors of the diseases they prevent and the extremely low incidence of side-effects the vaccines may cause? Are the few people who still refuse to have their children immunized for religious or philosophical reasons really a danger to society as a whole? I say let pediatricians take up the crusade for 100% immunization and leave the government out of it.

Food for thought:
Katherine Mangu-Ward | February 24, 2012
I hope I have recorded Chris's words on this subject correctly. Any misinterpretation is completely due to an error on my part.  


Friday, February 24, 2012

A Chinese Protest Movement. Really!

Li Tingting armed her fellow women with placards and marched them into the front lines of a war in which women have traditionally lost every battle. In the latest foray to correct an obvious injustice, women in China have started protesting the great disparity in wait times between men and women to use public facilities.

The protest movement, called “Occupy Men’s Toilet,” started in Guangzhou, China. After the women had blocked the men’s rooms for hours, Chinese officials in the province discovered that having a long wait to use a facility is quite unpleasant; they agreed to add 50% more women’s toilets there. Now that is a major victory for women!

Ms. Li intends to take her protest to Beijing next month, when the Parliament will have its annual meeting. She hopes that she and her fellow protesters can persuade the high-level state officials that adding 50% more women’s toilets throughout China is necessary to correct the unfair wait time that women have stoically endured for many years.

I, for one, find this protest more understandable than the “Occupy Wall Street” movement in the U.S. Having to wait in long lines to use a public facility is uncomfortable and bad for women’s health. Although some women have made life-long friends of strangers they met while standing in line, which is nice, that “perk” takes a back seat to bladder and kidney infections caused by having to “hold it.” Face it, we could use more women’s restrooms in the U.S., too.

            I suspect that Ms. Li has a great future ahead of her. A woman who can create a protest movement in Communist China and actually win must be phenomenal. You go, girl!


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Our "Brain Damaged" Teens

                I wonder how many generations of parents would swear that their own children were “brain challenged” when they were teens. I know our grandparents shook their heads and wondered what madness had overtaken their daughters when they swooned over the Beatles. When had Sinatra lost his appeal? And for heaven’s sake, what possessed our sons to shape their hair into a duck’s backside? What was wrong with a neat crew cut? Yes, those “brain challenged” teens of the 1950’s and 60’s are our parents.

            They grew up to wonder if their own teenage daughters and sons were “brain challenged.” Why on earth would their daughters listen to disco music when they could be enjoying “good” rock & roll? When had Elvis lost his appeal? And why didn't their sons ever dress nicely? Did they always have to wear the same pair of ripped jeans and that ratty old t-shirt with the phosphorescent marijuana leaf on the front?  Yes, we are those teens.

            More than once, my mother told me she hoped that when I grew up, I would have a teenager just like me. (That’s an ancient Chinese curse, I think, passed down from generation to generation.) My husband and I look at our boys dressed in sagging pants, six inches of underpants showing at the waistband, and wonder when our offspring became “brain challenged.” Must have been about when they turned 13. I have hopes that this next generation will outgrow the “brain challenged” phase and become intelligent human beings, but sometimes I weep in despair.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Alex's homework

            Alex’s English homework for tonight is to write an epigram of 12 lines of rhyming couplets. The theme is “Carpe Diem” and it must be about a holiday. Oh, and it has to include an extended metaphor. Ack!

St. Patrick's Day 
Success is a pot of gold
Sometimes you have to be BOLD
You have to take some chances
And keep making advances
To catch that Leprechaun called opportunity
Because it’s not too long before he leaves.
Don’t just sit there waiting
The moment is now and it’s fading.
So go out now and have a ball
But don’t party too hard or you’ll fall
And that’s a great way
To ruin your St. Patrick’s Day.

Halloween is a powerful wizard,
Dressed in the raiment of a slimy lizard.
Dry leaves float at his behest,
As he scurries through the spooky forest.
Frightful jack o’lanterns wink,
Causing wee childrens’ hearts to sink.
A bat flies low to pay homage,
To the magical lizard, freed from his cage.
He’s free tonight, the only night of the year,
His presence is creepy, and fills hearts with fear.
Enjoy each scary moment, the thrills and chills of the day,
Halloween wants you to come out to play.

This was a rather difficult assignment, as you can see by our results. I'm glad Alex's teacher won't be giving my epigram a grade! It was kind of fun, though. Give it a try!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Freedom and Liberty? What are those?

            The original framers of the U. S. Constitution could never have guessed at some of the issues the American people struggle with today. How could they ever have foreseen a time when the people would be forced by their elected officials to do things that violate their personal rights? Think about these issues:

·         Do you have the right to pack a lunch for your child to take to public school, secure in the knowledge that he will be allowed to eat it?

Believe it or not, the government can take away your child’s homemade lunch and force him/her to purchase a “nutritious” school lunch.

·         Do you have the right to choose whether or not to vaccinate your child?

In some parts of the country, you can claim a violation of your religious beliefs to avoid vaccinating your child, but you can’t abstain because you believe that there is not enough scientific proof that the vaccinations aren’t harmful to your child. In California, your child will be immunized without your consent.

·         Do you have the right to keep the money that you earn, even if you make more than others?

Income taxes are inherently unequal. The more you earn, the higher percentage of your earnings are paid as taxes. (Don’t try to talk to me about Warren Buffet – he doesn’t have income!!)

·         If you are an American citizen on American soil, what happens if you’re suspected of being a terrorist?

An American citizen can be held on “terrorism” charges and detained indefinitely without due process of law.

·         Does a business owner have the right to follow his/her religious convictions where government-mandated health insurance is concerned?

If a business, such as a church, holds a religious conviction that birth control products are wrong, it still has to provide them to their employees.  Oh, wait. That policy was updated yesterday. Now such businesses don’t have to pay for those benefits, but the insurance company has to provide them to the employees anyway. That’s much better. I’m sure religious organizations are grateful to President Obama for this change.

           I believe that, even though the founding fathers couldn’t have foreseen these specific infringements on our personal liberty, they have provided us with a means of correcting them. We may have temporarily lost our protection against unreasonable search and seizure, our right to a speedy trial, and our freedom of religion, but our court system is based on a Constitution that forbids the government from taking these rights from us. These issues will eventually be addressed. In the meantime, we have to use the other avenue the founding fathers left us – we have to vote for politicians who really will protect and defend the Constitution of the United States!

Would I make up a story about the government taking away a child's homemade lunch? I might, but unfortunately I don't have to.

Think your child won't be given vaccinations without your approval? Think again! http://bound4life.com/blog/2011/09/08/california-quietly-passes-law-to-allow-coerced-vaccinations-removing-parental-rights

Requiring birth control coverage for nuns? Good plan.  http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2012/feb/10/health-care-law-catholics-birth-control/

Our bill of rights: http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/billofrights

Freedom and liberty bumper stickers: http://www.zazzle.com/freedom_and_liberty_extremist_ideas_since_1776_bumper_sticker-128442018166590726

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Get up now? But it's still dark!

            “You have to get up now. Your alarm went off a few minutes ago.”

            The body in the bed groaned softly and turned over.

            “You really have to get up right now! Your alarm went off a half hour ago! Do you hear me?”

            “Uh huh.” There was a slight movement from the bed.

            “You’re making me nuts! This is the third time I’ve had to come in here. Get out of that bed! Now you only have 20 minutes to get to school!”

            “I don’t feel well” was the response from under the covers.

            “What do you mean you don’t feel well? What’s wrong with you?”

            “I have a headache and my stomach hurts.”

            “Really? Do you want me to make an appointment for you with the doctor?”

            “No. I’m sure a little more sleep will help me feel better.”

            “If you’re not sick enough to go to the doctor, you can get up and go to school.”

            “That’s…cough…awfully harsh.”

            “That fake cough doesn't fool me. You should have gone to bed earlier last night. Now get up and get yourself to school!”

            “Aw, man. You’re so unfair. I don’t feel like going to school today.”

            “Jeez, you sound like a kid, Mom. You…are…the…TEACHER!  Just think of all those poor college students sitting in a classroom waiting for you to get there. They must be getting annoyed that you’re always late for class.”

            “I guess you have a point.” I sat up and gingerly put my feet on the cold floor. This whole getting-up-before-the-sun thing is for the birds, so to speak, and I really don’t care for it at all.

            Note to self: Next semester, no 8 AM classes!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Now, wait a minute. Did you just insult me?

            “So you’ve been having trouble coming up with interesting topics for your blog, haven’t you?” My husband looked at me sympathetically. “It must be hard to think of something to publish three times a week.”

            “Um…yeah, I guess,” I mumbled back. Did he mean that my last few blog entries had been uninteresting? I’m pretty sure that’s what he meant, but sometimes I find it hard to tell when I’ve been insulted.

            For example, a couple of weeks ago, a colleague wished me a “happy birthday” and then proceeded to assure me that I certainly didn’t look like I was fifty. Now really, is that an insult or not? It seems to imply that fifty is old and that my colleague wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that somewhere in the world there are dinosaur fossils younger than I am. Luckily, it appears that I don’t look ancient, unless, of course, she was simply being polite?! Oy vey.

            On Thursday, I received an invitation from the Dean of the School of Science and Technology at the college where I tutor to speak at a seminar about how to help struggling students in the classroom. When I showed the invitation to my boss (he has to approve my hours), his first comment was, “How did she get your name?” He then proceeded to give his approval for me to represent the Student Success program at the seminar and to tell me to ask for help if I needed it. Had I been insulted or not? I’m still not sure.

            I have come to the conclusion that it’s easier to ignore these possibly-insulting comments rather than try to figure out if I should be offended or hurt by them. As my children would say, “Whateva.”

            “Yes,” I answered my husband. “It is hard to find interesting topics for my blog. Thanks for suggesting one.”

Friday, February 10, 2012

Another reminder to think before speaking

Your favorite virtue? An appreciation for irony.” 
― Christopher HitchensHitch-22

My favorite radio weather man told me today that I needed to dig out my winter coat, mittens, and hat for tomorrow. It’s going to be cold. Really cold.

            Let me first say “yuck!” I live in Georgia, in the Deep South, and I don’t do cold. Ah well, my weather prognosticator (who is much more reliable than a hibernating groundhog) assures me that by Tuesday or Wednesday of next week, we’ll have our mild weather back. I guess I can hold on.

            Other parts of the world are experiencing the biting cold of winter, too. As a matter of fact, it was so cold in France…. How cold was it? …. It was so cold in France that the French Health Minister advised the homeless to stay indoors.

Ironic, no?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

College Courses "Occupy" Students

            Ask ten different people what “Occupy Wall Street” is about, and you’re likely to get ten different answers. As is the case with most historical events, the factors leading up to the climax – in this case, the long-term sit-in protests – are complex.

There is no doubt that the protest is a reaction to the economic downturn that currently plagues the U.S. and the rest of the world. Numerous factors, including unwise mortgage lending practices, labor unions demanding unrealistic compensation from already stressed businesses, outrageous government spending, and a dependency on foreign oil, have contributed to the recession. People are out of work, businesses are closing, and the government doesn’t know how to bring us out of our downward spiral.

            That said, I have to wonder what it is that the Occupy protesters expect to accomplish by continuing to camp out in city parks. The movement is disorganized and ineffective. Maybe it’s time to regroup and consider finding solutions to our economic problems. We get it – our economy is in a slump and you don’t like it. Now what are you going to do about it? Protesting is so last year.

            If you appreciate irony, consider today’s news about Roosevelt University, NYU, and Columbia offering “Occupy Wall Street” political science courses this semester. Students will learn about “corporate greed” and “the division of wealth.” Where are these students ever going to find jobs if they take classes like that?              Oh yeah...academia.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Americans don't DO geography!

                It’s not outside the realm of possibility that CNN may have a current job opening. The only catch is – you have to know your geography.

            Broadcast in 212 countries, CNN viewers around the world expect their news to be accurate. When London shows up on a map graphic as being located approximately where Norfolk is supposed to be, CNN loses credibility. Adding a dot showing Cornwall as a city doesn’t help matters. (Cornwall is a county.) This is a basic geography fail.

            Apparently, American companies/adults/children don’t do geography. We can’t locate the U.S. on a world map, and we can’t identify New York City on a map of the U.S. Ask us to pinpoint London, and only the exceptional Americans will know that it’s in England somewhere. Asking us to draw it on a map that is then shown to the rest of the world is so not a good idea.

            What is it about geography that Americans find so challenging? Actually, I think we don’t find it challenging so much as we find it irrelevant. Every American knows that the United States is the center of the world. Asking them to identify unimportant little land masses around it (such as Canada) or on the other side of the world (e.g. China) is ridiculous. Why would Americans have to know that stuff? I mean, really.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Barking Mad at Muslim Zealots!

            So what’s the number one problem in the world today? Well, that’s a loaded question, isn’t it? You might mention the economy, homelessness, cancer, starving children, inadequate education, the health care system, crooked politicians, nuclear weapons or global warming.  Choose whichever one you like, and you’d be right. But the mega problem that takes the number one spot on my top ten list has to be religious zealots.

            Religious fanatics abound throughout the world, and the one thing they have in common is that they want to force the rest of us to abide by their particular notions of right and wrong. Today, the zealot spotlight lands on...Holland, of all places.

            Last week, a politician representing the Islam Democrats party proposed a law that would ban dogs from The Hague, which is one of the largest cities in the Netherlands. Islamic tradition states that dogs are unclean, and some Muslims appear to believe that it is a violation of their freedom of religion to have to see a dog in a public area. Muslims, who now account for 12% of the population of The Hague, are proposing laws that would make it illegal for the other 88% of the population to own dogs. Excuse me?

            When confronted by a religious wacko, I usually just walk away. I know you can’t change a zealot’s mind, and I don’t have the patience to listen to nonsense. However, someone legislating the restriction of other people’s personal liberties for his own religious purposes is dangerous. I won't be walking away from this one. Just try to take my dog, man.


Latest update on this issue -- Today the Islam Democrat representative in Holland issued a denial; he never called for a ban on dogs. His words were taken out of context. Of course they were. And if he tells us that his dog ate his homework, are we supposed to believe that, too?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Stuck in a Silent Movie

            Do you ever have the feeling that you’re stuck in one of those old, choppy, black and white silent movies? I don’t mean that everything is varying shades of grey; it’s what is happening that makes you suspect that at any moment Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton are going to walk through your door.

            On film, it’s funny when Harold Lloyd walks down the street, totally engrossed by his newspaper and blithely ignoring the trail of destruction that follows along behind him. Inadvertently, he has gotten in the way of piano movers who drop the baby grand, causing it to roll down the street where it will collide with a fruit vender’s cart, scattering apples on the sidewalk that passersby have to dodge, etc. and so on. It’s classic slapstick, slipping-on-a-banana-peel type of humor, and no one is ever really injured.

            It’s not so funny when it happens in real life. Yesterday, I happily jumped into my new little red car and set off to have dinner at a favorite Greek restaurant with my friend Gail. As I pulled onto the Ronald Reagan Parkway, the traffic news reported that there was a fatal accident at the exit right before the one where I got on. I breathed deeply, touched my St. Christopher medal in mute gratitude, and slowed down to the legal speed limit.

            I continued on my way, exiting onto Highway 29. I was sitting at the light at an intersection where I would have entered Highway 29 had I taken my usual back way when several fire trucks and ambulances, sirens blaring, careened past me and turned down that side street. There was an accident, and judging by the number of response vehicles, it was a bad one. That could have been me.

            Now feeling a bit shaky, I made it to the restaurant and sat down in a booth by the window. Unfortunately, firefighters were trying to put out an apartment fire a few blocks away, and all I could see from the window was billowing black smoke, curling up into the evening sky. I tucked my head between my knees and breathed deeply to keep from fainting. Obviously, I don’t have the chutzpah of Chaplin, Keaton or Lloyd.

            So what do you do when you notice that a string of ugly events has dogged your footsteps, cutting a swath of devastation as wide as an F3 tornado? I thought back to my actions, going over each movement in my mind, but I just couldn’t remember getting in the way of the piano movers. Had I been as oblivious as Harold Lloyd reading his newspaper, or is life actually as bizarre as an old silent movie? I suspect the latter.