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Up On My Education System Soapbox…Continued Thoughts on Chicken Little

12 Mar

Newspapers, blogs and Facebook memes are filled with stories about what’s wrong with the American Education System.  It’s those lazy teachers!  It’s the teacher unions!  The school year is too short!  The school day needs to be longer!  Summer vacation is so long, students forget what they’ve learned!  Schools in poverty areas don’t provide the same level of education as schools in affluent neighborhoods!

Lots and lots of accusations.  Committees form to assess the situation.  Committees form to come up with accountability plans.  Tests are created to hold students accountable, though they tend to be used more for teacher and school accountability.  Committees form to assess the results of the assessments.  Committees form to bring curriculum in line with the assessments. Committees form to standardize instruction of the curriculum to the point where teachers across districts all each the same thing the same way on the same day.

education reform

Tests are given in controlled environments where teachers read instructions, carefully warning students to not mark in the margins of the test booklets, often over a two-week time period where all instruction is ceased. The scores come back the following school year–5 to 6 months after the tests are completed, compiled school scores are published in local newspapers and the community runs around screaming, “The scores are falling!  The scores are falling!”

Loop back to accusations and committees.  Factor in multi-million dollar budget cuts, schools now focused entirely on readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmatic and we’ve stepped back to a time when few kids went to college, some went to trade schools or apprenticeships, and many worked hard labor or agricultural jobs.  The world is no longer that place.  We live in a complex world with complex problems that cannot be solved by learning there is one right answer that can be bubbled in on a test with a number two pencil.  “Make your mark heavy and dark, if you need to change your answer be sure to erase completely.”

Universities worry students aren’t prepared for college-level coursework, and they’re right.  Public schools prepare students for tests, not to be problem solvers; many students are unable or unwilling to think for themselves, let alone wrap their heads around a problem that might have more than one correct solution.  Money is being funneled to the “core” subjects of reading, writing, math and sometimes science, now taught with lock-step precision with no room for exploration of the teachable moment.  Electives are cut, library services are reduced or cut, creativity and problem solving disappears from our children’s education.

The reason I’m on my soapbox today?  My college freshman, who went through the local school system, called last night after struggling through a research assignment.  The librarians were asked to not assist the students from this class–they were on their own with whatever research skills they brought with them.  The professor expects her students come with research skills.  What are our local schools doing to prepare our students for college-level research?  Cutting library services.  Librarians are often reduced to clerks, checking books in and out, completing book orders and paperwork, and proctoring the annual standardized testing.  There is precious little time for librarians to teach research and presentation skills; not that many teachers have time in their prescribed curricula to collaborate with their librarian in the first place.

The big mystery is why studies such as The Colorado Study are being ignored.  Schools with degreed, certified, teacher-librarians presenting a full and comprehensive library program from well-stocked and up-to-date library collections have higher test scores.  Higher test scores.  What all the Chicken Littles are seeking.  Not only would students get the researching skills they need (and not only for college, but for big life decisions like buying a car, buying a home, deciding where to live….), but the communities would have their coveted scores.

Don’t even get me started on test scores vs poverty, homelessness, kids whose parents are in and out of jail….  OR that at the bottom of it all, we’re talking about KIDS here.  Little people.  Precious little people who should be coloring and pretending in pre-school, not already in classes learning to read….  OR that over-analysis of books sucks the joy out of reading…..   OR  trying to teach subjects to kids who are not developmentally ready, just because that subject is on this year’s test….  OR testing kids with learning disabilities who read below grade level with tests AT grade level….

OK.  Breathe.  Gonna step down from my soapbox–for now–and have a cuppa.


What is it About January?

6 Jan

It started snowing in December, and the snow is still on the ground.  Crunchy, glittery, fresh-looking.  Perfect for the holidays.  Foggy mornings leaving hoar-frosted boughs when the sun peeks out.


But brrrrrrr!  It’s January and I’m over it.  I’m tired of being cold and  ready for a whole round of new.  What is it about January that creates the mind-set for newness?  Is it as simple as a pristine calendar, eagerly awaiting appointments and travel plans?  Is it how bare my house looks when Christmas decorations are finally stored in their boxes? (Hasn’t happened yet….maybe next weekend after Mr18 heads back to college.)  Is it ingrained in our society, the talk of New Year’s resolutions?  I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, because I’m so there.  Ready to open the door to new.  Ready to try on who I will be as a result of the new.  Committed to a new life-style change.

Michael and I have decided to go vegan.  And fat-free.  This is huge for people who love food as much as we do.  We’re not obese, but could stand to lose a pound or two or ten.  We’re not out of shape.  Not completely.  Well, we’re not marathon-ready anymore.  We eat reasonably healthy, but our cholesterol could be a lot lower.

Our neighbors have been on a diet based on Dr. Caldwell Esselsyn’s book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, for a year.  They have lost weight, they feel great and have more energy.  Michael has a history of heart disease in his family and wants to do anything he can to not be a heart attack waiting to happen.

I must confess to a fair amount of reluctance.  When I’ve gone for days cooking nothing but vegetables for dinner, Michael hasn’t been happy about it.  He’s not a big-time carnivore, but he loves chicken.  I was dreading cooking that way all the time AND not being able to add in cheese or dairy of any sort besides.  I was raised to make people happy with food.  I was also reluctant because I love eggs and dairy.  Waaaaaah.  I want an egg over-easy.  An omelette.  A baked brie.  Sour cream on my baked potato.

After my initial reluctance, and reading a kinder, gentler, less gloom-and-doom version of the diet (The Engine 2 Diet by Dr. Esselsyn’s son, Rip), I’m coming along for the ride.  My new challenge is to get the flavors and textures I love without some of my favorite ingredients.  How I love ham hocks in potato soup, sigh.  After just a few days, I’m liking it.  I get to have most of my carb-y friends, like potatoes, rice and bread.  Dinner isn’t dependent on what meat is thawed.  My fat-free version of potato soup is in the crock pot and smells promising, thanks to a new secret weapon–Hickory Grill Shaker.

Our new treadmill is assembled and waiting for me to go for a walk that will eventually be a run as I try on the new and improved me.  I’ll let you know how it goes; you can follow the vegan recipes on my food blog, Somethin’ Yummy.  Might be treating ourselves to a binge now and then as goals are met.  Not giving up coffee, though.


The Library Goddess Recommends…

1 Jun

Books in verse.  They’re approachable–not too many words on a page.  They’re a gateway to prose novels, a gateway to an appreciation of language and author’s craft.  My favorite author to suggest to students and adults alike in this category?  Helen Frost.  She spins compelling tales in what seems to be effortless free verse.  Most of these compelled me to have a tissue to dab at my tears.  I’m a bit of a sap for a good story.

I just finished Crossing Stones.  Two families in a 1917 small town affected by war and women’s sufferage, told in a verse that mimics the stream and crossing stones that separate and yet binds them together.  This is the fourth Frost book I’ve read.  I savor the author’s notes at the end with the explanation of where each story comes from and the poetic form created to tell it.  Crossing Stones didn’t disappoint….I’ll let you read that explanation and the others yourself…

The book that introduced me to Frost was The Braid–the story of two sisters being forced to leave their native Scotland in 1850, but one decides to stay.  In the night before they are to leave, she braids her sister’s hair into her own.  She cuts the braid off, keeping half and leaving the other half for her sister.  As the story progresses, each sister’s life is braided into the other’s even though separated by an ocean.  Each sister tells her side in turn, each poem braided into the next.  A beautiful book. 

I then read Diamond Willow; my favorite of these four.  Diamond Willow is a girl coming of age in a small Alaskan town.  Named for a tree, she feels most at home with the family’s sled dogs and insists on mushing solo to her grandparents’ house.  This solo trip results in tragedy and the discovery of a secret.  The poems are in the shape of a diamond with a darker center, mimicking the diamond willow itself.  The larger, outer poem is what Willow projects to the world, and the smaller dark center reflects her inner thoughts.

Spinning Through the Universe tells the stories behind the scenes of a fifth grade class.  Each child writes his or her life in a different poetic form–appropriate to each child’s triumphs or challenges in the first half, and in acrostics in the second half. (With one exception)  The teacher starts things off, wondering why this child sleeps in class, that one seems withdrawn and so on.  Each child reveals their own answer, opening your eyes to the complicated interwoven lives present in any classroom.

I have some other favorite books in verse by different authors I’ll share later.  For now, trot off to your library or bookstore and find a Helen Frost to curl up with this summer.

All images taken from

Miss Brooks Loves Books

13 May

Yesterday, the fabulous staff and administration of my school threw a retirement party for the five of us retiring.  Each of us received a basket of goodies selected especially for us.  The goodie in my basket that touched my heart was this book.  Miss Brooks really loves books and makes it her mission to help kids love books as much a she does.  She dresses up in costumes and reads to her kids.  A lot.  A situation particularly “vexing” to reluctant reader Missy.  When Miss Brooks assigns each kid to dress in a costume and share a book they love, Missy still can’t find a book to love; dismissing her classmates’ books as “Too flowery, too furry, too clickety, too yippity.”  Of course, Miss Brooks doesn’t give up, and neither does Missy’s mom.  Will Missy find a book to love?  I’ll bet you know the answer to that, but you’ll need to read this book to find out the connection that turns Missy into a reader.  I LOVED this book.  It brought a tear to my eye.  Thanks, Terrie!  You found the perfect book for me!  Read more and have a look inside this book at Amazon.  (Image above from the Amazon site)