Tuesday, February 21, 2006

No Child Left Behind Killing School Programs
At work, I just finished reading two books on homeschooling children with Asperger Syndrome (in preparation for a conference.) My immediate, and I admit, strange and undoubtedly misguided reaction to this was to think, "I should have children, just so I could educate them properly!" The idea of homeschooling has fascinated me since I was small, and found myself extremely envious of one girl who lived across the street from my elementary school playground. She had been in my class the year before, but then she got to homeschool, and play in her own yard, and not have to go to the school building, (and I'm sure there were other reasons too, but my reasons for so disliking elementary school were never clearly defined.) Everything looked sunnier on her side of the chainlink fence. But I've been trying hard to remind myself that a conviction that I could do a better job than the public school system is not actually a very good reason to want to have children.

And then I read this, written by an acquaintance who teaches 7th and 8th grade English in a New Mexico middle school, in response to a NYTimes article on how NCLB tutoring services are going unused:
I just have to say that this makes me extremely angry. Under NCLB, schools are not allowed to provide the tutoring programs themselves (though this article says a few school districts have appealed that), allowing students only to go to state-sanctioned private tutors like Sylvan. Because of this, our school's groundbreaking, highly-effective after school program was cancelled, the money taken away and given to a few students so that they could get private tutoring. The problems with this are many: 1) the closest private tutoring companies are in Albuquerque, more than 40 miles away, and NCLB doesn't provide for transportation -- and a large number of families with students eligible for tutoring are one-car families, who literally cannot drive their students an hour to Albuquerque just to be tutored; 2) programs like Sylvan are far more expensive than the running costs of the school-based tutoring program, so the state/Title I money helps far fewer students; 3) for-profit tutoring programs have a vested interest in student growth, because if the students are not showing growth, the parents are not likely to continue paying for the service (even if the money comes from the gov't, parents still have to pay for gas money to get to ABQ), so private-tutoring companies (in my own professional experience) will inflate records of student growth, effectively lying to parents and students about progress that does not then manifest itself in the school setting; 4) by insisting that private tutoring companies can do a better job than the teachers, the federal government is further discrediting teachers, sowing ideas of mistrust and suspicion in the minds of parents and legislators, further hurting the profession by chipping away at any sort of rewards for teachers, whether they be emotional (respect) or financial. It's actually very clever -- this legislation actually says -- in a very sneaky, underhanded way -- that the government has more faith in private, corporate education than in public education, thus furthering its agenda to bring the public school system down and replace it with "entreprenurial" schooling, private/corporate schools unchecked by Constitutional Law.

And that's reason #2,986 that I hate No Child Left Behind.
This does not help my mood.

Tonight, I go to tutor in a nearby low-cost housing development that has an apartment set aside for community services, such as the after-school tutoring program. (There used to be at least five more of these programs set up in the Raleigh area, but this is the only one still running. The others ran out of volunteers and funding.) My hope is that this will make me feel better, that I'm actually doing something useful, which it usually does, but it also makes me upset to see so many children performing at below grade level, already being left behind in elementary school because the teacher can't spend as much time individualizing lessons as needed in this case, and because not all parents can take several hours every night to re-explain everything to their children in ways they can understand.

In the homeschooling books, the author mentioned that when schooling her child at home, she and many other parents had found that it really on takes 2-4 hours of "schooling" per day to equal and surpass what the children were getting in the public schools. I commented on what a sad commentary I thought that was to a friend, and he responded that this shouldn't be a surprise, since the main point of public school is really socialization, not academics. While this may be true, it is so shockingly opposite of my own conception of what school should be that I simply cannot reconcile the idea.

Don't get me wrong, I am fully in favor of the ideal of a free and equal public school experience for all children, but lately, I'm having a hard time finding a lot of faith for our system as it stands.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Something Wicked
Yesterday afternoon, I was startled to hear this NPR story, "US is Losing that Small Business Feeling." It isn't so much a news story as a personal commentary, despite the dry title. The commentator, Angeli Primlani, begins by talking about her interesting childhood, growing up in her family's motel, helping out and feeling a sense of community with all the varied travelers that came through. She laments losing that feeling when her family sold the motel, but then talks about finding it again in adulthood at a bookstore in the Chicago area.

It was the mention of the bookstore that startled me. Because, you see, I already knew all about it, its owner, and the sense of community it instilled in its patrons. The store was called Something Wicked, and it was/is (for a while longer, at least) in Evanston, IL. It was my aunt Janice's favorite bookstore. It was where she discovered the historical action figures that amused us both so much. For several years, every single person in the family got books from Something Wicked. The bookstore owner was one of her most frequently mentioned friends in recent years. Janice could possibly have accounted for a substantial amount of profits for that store on her own, not to mention free advertising, from Chicago all the way to NC. And when I heard the story, I was immediately concerned about what Janice would do if Something Wicked closed, and wanted to call and tell her about hearing the story, and then I remembered I couldn't.

I'm sure she would have approved of the overall message of the story, though, despite the sad news about her bookstore. She liked to do her shopping locally, a fight others in our family have taken up as well. My other aunt on that side of the family, Linda, is now the executive director of Raleigh Unchained, and one of her first member businesses to contact was our own local bookstore, Quail Ridge Books. People should take the time to appreciate the community that can spring up around these kinds of businesses more.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A Non-Standard English Tale of Romance
Neil emailed me a link to this romantic tale, apparently originally published in The New Yorker in July, 1994.
How I Met My Wife, by Jack Winter

It had been a rough day, so when I walked into the party I was very chalant, despite my efforts to appear gruntled and consolate.

I was furling my wieldy umbrella for the coat check when I saw her standing alone in a corner. She was a descript person, a woman in a state of total array. Her hair was kempt, her clothing shevelled, and she moved in a gainly way.

I wanted desperately to meet her, but I knew I'd have to make bones about it since I was travelling cognito. Beknownst to me, the hostess, whom I could see both hide and hair of, was very proper, so it would be skin off my nose if anything bad happened. And even though I had only swerving loyalty to her, my manners couldn't be peccable. Only toward and heard-of behavior would do.

Fortunately, the embarrassment that my maculate appearance might cause was evitable. There were two ways about it, but the chances that someone as flappable as I would be ept enough to become persona grata or a sung hero were slim. I was, after all, something to sneeze at, someone you could easily hold a candle to, someone who usually aroused bridled passion.

So I decided not to risk it. But then, all at once, for some apparent reason, she looked in my direction and smiled in a way that I could make heads and tails of.

I was plussed. It was concerting to see that she was communicado, and it nerved me that she was interested in a pareil like me, sight seen. Normally, I had a domitable spirit, but, being corrigible, I felt capacitated -- as if this were something I was great shakes at -- and forgot that I had succeeded in situations like this only a told number of times. So, after a terminable delay, I acted with mitigated gall and made my way through the ruly crowd with strong givings.

Nevertheless, since this was all new hat to me and I had no time to prepare a promptu speech, I was petuous. Wanting to make only called-for remarks, I started talking about the hors d'oeuvres, trying to abuse her of the notion that I was sipid, and perhaps even bunk a few myths about myself.

She responded well, and I was mayed that she considered me a savory character who was up to some good. She told me who she was. "What a perfect nomer," I said, advertently. The conversation become more and more choate, and we spoke at length to much avail. But I was defatigable, so I had to leave at a godly hour. I asked if she wanted to come with me. To my delight, she was committal. We left the party together and have been together ever since. I have given her my love, and she has requited it.
Ah, the joys of English. A Happy Singles Awareness Day, Valentine's Day, or alternatively, Happy Hans Day to all.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Most Beautiful Place on Earth
I've been reading Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire lately, which opens with the following passage:
This is the most beautiful place on earth.

There are many such places. Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary. A houseboat in Kashmir, a view down Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, a gray gothic farmhouse two stories high at the end of a red dog road in the Allegheny Mountains, a cabin on the shore of a blue lake in spruce and fir country, a greasy alley near the Hoboken waterfront, or even, possibly, for those of a less demanding sensibility, the world to be seen from a comfortable apartment high in the tender, velvety smog of Manhattan, Chicago, Paris, Tokyo, Rio, or Rome - there's no limit to the human capacity for the homing sentiment.
This, of course, got me thinking about where that place might be for me. The closest sentiment I can remember is how I felt whenever I was driving back to North Carolina from college and grad school. From Iowa, the drive is 16 hours, from Michigan, 13, but in both cases, one passes from the Midwest to the East Coast by going over the Appalachain Mountains. No matter how long the rest of the drive had felt before, as soon as I hit the tree-covered Appalachains, which in this case appear first in West Virginia, the feeling that washed over me was "home."

As a child, when I read the Little House on the Prairie series, I was horrified when the family decided to move from their house in the big woods to the seemingly never-ending rolling, grassy plains. While going to school in the plains states didn't actually prove them to be the nightmare of disorienting, terrifying open flatness my mind had originally conjured up, they weren't home. I draw no comfort from that kind of geography.

Mountains, though, mountains and trees... balm for the soul. Aesthetically, I did not enjoy living in Santiago de Chile, but the bus trip over the Andes on the way to Argentina and back, the three times I went, did me a great deal of good. All the places I liked visiting most there were in the mountains: Aconcagua, Machu Picchu, NP Lauca. Excellent, tall, dramatic mountains, they make me happy; but in the end, I still think the Appalachains are home.

Monday, February 06, 2006

My friend Will has introduced me to a fabulous new word, "disemvoweling." As this Wikipedia entry explains, it is a process used to discourage troll postings on forums and in comments.
Disemvoweling (also spelled disemvowelling) is a technique used by forum moderators to suppress trolling, vandalism, and other rude behavior in online discourse by removing all the vowels from the offending material. The disemvoweled text can still be read, or rather puzzled out, but it is clearly marked as deprecated and is no longer susceptible to being automatically read by every passer-by who happens to glance at it.
Personally, I haven't many opportunities to use this word, but it makes me happy knowing it's out there, so I must spread it further, in the hopes that it will be used by those who can.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Who's a Blogger?
One of my friends is a reporter for a smallish newspaper at an undisclosed location in the Pacific Northwest. He noticed an interesting word-meaning phenomenon, which I shall allow him to report in his own words, (though with names obscured, since the person being talked about is unaware that what he has done is either interesting or being blogged about.)
Last year, my current managing editor, C., was told to improve his paper's website, and so he decided that his paper (my current paper) should have one of those blog things everybody has been talking about. Since our paper is quite small (less than 20 reporters, including the sports stringers), this was pretty progressive of him.

But I'm almost positive that C. doesn't read blogs. He doesn't read much about them, either, except in specialized media publications that probably assume their readers all read blogs.

So somewhere along the way, he seems to have gotten the idea that "blogger" refers to anyone who posts a comment on a blog.

The funny thing is that, as a result of the promotional copy that C. has composed for the site and the paper, almost all our users have adopted his definition. They call one another bloggers. They call their posts "blogs." C. has inadvertently created a city of forty-five thousand people that has its own definition of a word.
So, are you a blogger?

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