Sunday, October 28, 2012

Deer Season - Photography

The weekend before deer hunting season's open, I staked myself  in my favorite deer blind to see what kind of wildlife was around following the drought and years since there was heavy hunting on the property. My first venture out into the pasture brought me up on the largest buck I had ever encountered on the land. Unfortunately, he startled too quickly upon my spying him for me to get a picture.

After being staked in the blind for just a few minutes, I began to see deer to the left and right of me. They were coming from everywhere, but none were remaining still enough, close enough for me to get any decent photographs. I willed them closer and closer, but none would obey my subconsicious directions.
Finally a young buck with just three points began to approach the stand. Seemingly fearless, he posed for many photos despite the camera's beeps and clicks. Had I carried a gun with me instead of a camera, I would be eating well today. Of course, I would much rather have the rack of the three other bucks I saw that evening, this one would have provided some tender, flavorful venison.
Just as the buck came along, a rabbit bounded by the stand. I attempted to snap pictures, but as with the earlier deer, it did not come stay still long enough to get a clear shot.

I could not help but think, "Bambi and Thumper - together again."

The scene did not last long as one of my parent's dogs came running out of the woods, but it did give me the opportunity to have some quiet time with the wildlife I grew up stalking with my bow, gun, and camera.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Where Testing Went Wrong

         (Cross posted with my professional blog).

This week I had two encounters with students, honor students, that proved to me the degree of testing we do in schools has sent the educational system horribly astray. Both of these bright young people failed to perform simple, daily tasks because they simply had no idea how to do them. One task was making change; the other was addressing envelopes. Even well into the twenty-first century, we still use currency and mail.

         My school’s basketball team sold t-shirts as a fundraiser and I agreed to buy one from one of the students.

         “How much?” I asked.

         “Ten dollars,” she said.

         “I have a twenty. Do you have change?” I asked.

         “No,” she said dejectedly.

         “Come back later and I’ll see if I can break the $20.” I said.


         She came back to me later in the day for the money. I informed her that I had not found anyone who could break my $20. She was upset as the order was due in to the coach.

         I asked, “have you sold any other shirts?”

         “Yes!” she exclaimed.

         “Did they pay?” I asked.


         “Ok, then take my $20 and give me $10.”

         “I can’t do that!” she said looking disgusted.

         “Why not?”

         “Because they gave me that money for their shirts! I have to turn it in.”

         I then explained how making change works. I handed her my $20 and she gave me a $10.

         Later, after printing labels for some letters I needed mailed home to parents, I gave them to an office aide – another high performing student – to place on envelopes. A little later the student returned all the envelopes to me, with address labels attached – totally unusable. Most were in the far bottom corner, many folded over the edge of the envelope. Others were at wild angles going every which direction. None were usable by the postal service to deliver the letters home. I had to place blank labels over the incorrectly placed labels and then put new labels on the envelopes which took me twice as much time as if I had done the job myself.

         Two basic, functional, daily skills that high performing students did not know how to do. This is how testing has failed us. We churn out students who can do advanced math. Students who can recite Newton’s laws of physics. Students who write powerfully- formulaically. Yet they never learned to do basic, functional, daily skills.

         But on standardized testing they shine.

         I am not always popular in education circles for my strong belief in accountability. I absolutely believe teachers, counselors, and administrators should be able to demonstrate in a measurable way how they have improved each student’s skills.

         Nothing I do on a daily basis can be measured by bubbling in “A,” “B,” “C,” or “D.” Standardized testing does now show what I can do. It shows what I know about a given knowledge base.

         All of education should consider the examinations given through Career and Technical Education (CTE) certification programs. Each of those tests forces the student to prove what they can do – which would be impossible without understanding what is being asked and the knowledge foundation behind the task. They prove that demonstrable skills based tests can be given.

         Your mechanic takes these tests.

         Your administrative assistant takes these tests.

         Your chef takes these tests.

         Your HVAC repairman takes these tests.

         Your pharmacy technician (the person who ACTUALLY fills your prescription) takes these tests.

         Your nurse takes these tests.

         Despite most students in Texas now being required to complete pre-calculus to graduate from high school, employers still say our students graduate without the math skills necessary to do the jobs for which they are being hired. Bill Dagget, an educational researcher, found that the actual skills needed for these jobs were all taught by eighth grade. So why cannot a student who has progressed through pre-calculus succeed in work?

         Schools teach the skills necessary to pass a test.

         Schools rely on the test to measure their effectiveness (as it is communicated to the public through state and Federal ratings).

         The skills necessary to bubble in, “A,” “B,” “C,” or “D” have nothing to do with the workplace.

         Therefore, schools teach material in a way that has nothing to do with real world effectiveness.

         Ask almost any teacher and they will admit that they do not get to teach in a way that conveys the most practical knowledge because it would cause the test scores to go down and put the school’s rating (and their professional evaluation) to go down. Professional educators voice their frustration regularly, but politicians and other non-educators do not understand that there are more ways to measure growth than a bubble-in test. CTE has been doing it for years.

         Students who graduate from high school with a computer technician certification can START working at nearly $60,000 a year.

         Students who graduate from high school with various automotive technician certifications can START working at over $45,000 a year.

         We need to rethink what a test can do. Politicians. Business people. Educators. We all have a role in determining how to make our young people successful AND grow the economy. We have given the students four years of math – and the business people still say the same thing: our employees do not know the math skills for the job. Maybe it is time to move from “more” to “what.”

         Why doesn’t accounting count as a math credit?

         Why doesn’t business English count as a language arts credit?

         Without a doubt, because we are funded by taxes, education must be accountable to the public. The best way we can do that is to prepare our young people to be successful in college and careers. We have lived more than a decade with high stakes testing delivering greater returns according to the test yet diminishing returns in productivity. Career and Technical Education provides a roadmap for successful education programs that demonstrate effectiveness AND provide immediate economic returns.

         It can be done in public education. Listen to educators. Listen to business. Build the education system from kindergarten through post-graduate studies around those voices and we will have the most highly-skilled and productive workforce in the world. It was done in the 1950’s and it can be done now.

         Testing went wrong when it became the answer instead of a factor in measuring student success. Test scores are easy to understand and easy to communicate. Unfortunately, the world is much more complex than the matrix of a test. Eventually, enough will realize that a standardized test does not tell everything people wish it does and the pendulum will swing.

         Successful education programs that demonstrate effectiveness AND provide immediate economic returns can be done in public education. The sooner we change the paradigm of evaluation from a knowledge-based test to a true skills-based test, the sooner that will happen. CTE has proven it can happen. Learning from that example can help us get there sooner.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

New Season Blues

         In an effort to separate life from work – at least a little bit – I have tried to watch some of the new season of television. Since I do not have cable I have been limited to broadcast television: and once again, PBS has the only shows for which I stay awake through most of the broadcast. Perhaps it is the television snob in me. Perhaps it is because I actually enjoy learning something more than sitting for gimmie punch-lines.

         Twenty-five years ago my degree in radio-television production made me highly critical of television as an entertainment medium as I could spot every microphone shadow and continuity failure. Good writing saved some of the television shows at the time. Either shows have become much better at hiding those pesky microphones (they have become comparatively microscopic) or I have lost my eye for such things (aging does that). Sadly I have yet to find any good writing this season.

         The shows I have enjoyed most consistently have had good writing and good characters. A conversation Facebook chat with a friend of mine recently explained why I do not watch some of the shows. He was anxiously awaiting the premier of one of the popular reality shows – which I confessed to watching one time. He could not believe that I was not hooked. I summed it up with one statement, “I would not be friends with any of the people on the show.” You want reality; that’s it. The reality producers effectively craft characters from all the people participating in the show by selectively choosing which bits to air: mostly drama without the writers creating a story. Reality does not need production.

         I work with people all day long. I do not need to come home to more “real” drama. The created drama on PBS, though takes up little of the programming time and creates stories and characters I look forward to watching. Downton Abbey, Dr. Who, Call the Midwife, all have stories that captivate and characters who fascinate. Dr. Who has finally captured my attention even though it has been around, off and on, longer than I have been (continuously). The other documentary and educational programming engage my brain enough that I do a better job of staying awake than any of the laugh tracks.

         I find it fascinating that the laugh track was supposed to make it easier to laugh because the view was laughing along with others. It also helped the ignorant viewer know when a joke had been made. Despite the laugh track, I can make it through entire episodes of some of the shows I have seen this season without even breaking a smile.

         Now that I have given them a few weeks to grow on me (though I mostly slept through them – seriously they could not even keep me awake), I have reached the point of giving up on television for another season and the cable company will futilely attempt to get me back.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Do Not Tape!

          During a meeting with co-workers at one of our sites, I stood talking to a friend of mine when I noticed this sign over his shoulder.


         Could they have used any more tape to post a “Do NOT tape” sign to the wall?

         They only made it worse by using the bright blue painter’s tape.

         I looked around the room and there were four such signs taped to the walls. If the building manager is that concerned about tape, a nice frame with a hanger would solve the problem nicely. Instead, sheet protectors and rolls of painter’s tape handled the job.

         I would have mentioned it to the building manager, but knowing that she has no sense of humor, I figured someone would be fired for such careless use of tape, I refrained. I, and my friend, decided we would just laugh about it and take pictures.

Friday, October 12, 2012

And There Was Joy






         Today is a day of numbers.

         My birthday was sequential this time: 10-11-12.

         The calendar has clicked around 46 times.

         My birthday dinner cost $12.32 (+tip – I’m modest with my generosity, but it was generous).

         The football team from my school won 27-12.

         Ninety people (so far) have sent me birthday wishes. I think I have responded to all of them except one – my mother who only has spotty cell phone reception.

         Birthdays are not something I value too much – mine or others. I did not do anything special other than stay alive. I do not make a big deal of mine and tend not to mention it unless directly asked.

The day though does prompt reflection: do I matter? This year, the answer is yes. More important than the numbers, no matter how trivial is the connection I make with others. Every day I get to promote justice. Every day I get the chance to influence. Every day I get to do what I love.

I’ll wake up starting my 47th circle of the sun with joy – something about which I have written several times. Joy is not happiness; it emanates from a much deeper region. I live every day with joy.

The numbers. The greetings. The date. They just give me a reason to reflect and remember why.


Monday, October 08, 2012

Skyfall - the Song

Barely two days after it was released, when one searches for Adele’s “Skyfall” the first searches to come up are already comparing it to the list of James Bond theme songs over the last 50 years. Everyone has an opinion. Mine is that I love it so far.

It has been years since I remember the release of a Bond movie theme song being its own event. I have looked forward to the release since Adele mentioned in late spring that she had a song coming out in the fall. With no album in the works but the new Bond film scheduled for November speculation immediately suggested that she was singing the theme. This time the speculation proved accurate in dramatic fashion.

The opening horn blast lets one know from the onset that this is Bond. The opening lyric, “This is the end. Hold your breath and count to ten,” shows such a Bondian nature. He is always one wrong step away from death. Later in the song the requisite romance rears its head – or at least its lap. At the 1:50 mark, the horn riff takes off on a variation of the Bond theme. Anyone not knowing a Bond movie was set for near release knows then that the song is part of the franchise. The soaring melody and Adele’s smooth vocals have prepared me for the opening credits with dramatic moves pitting James Bond against his enemy of the episode. It takes me back to the days of the Playhouse Theater in Victoria where I saw Moonraker with its theme song in the opening scene and credits.

This is a song I want to hear with my earphones on. Take away everything else. Let me immerse myself in the drama.

How does it measure up against other James Bond theme songs? I have no idea and am somewhat annoyed at those who would rank it before the movie has been seen. I like what it does in setting up the movie. It makes me want to see the movie which I would otherwise likely wait for some kind of online streaming to see – if then. The Bond franchise, over 50 years, has offered some musical gems: “Goldfinger,” “Live and Let Die,” “Diamond are Forever,” “Moonraker,” “Nobody Does It Better,” “For Your Eyes Only” to name a few.

Ok, I was kidding about the last one. The Adele song certainly surpasses that pop drivel. Ultimately “Skyfall” will be judged by how it fits the movie as a whole. At least until the movie is released, I am going to enjoy the theatrical thrill its orchestration lets me have.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Editing for...

         Today I am going to edit.

         For the last month I forced myself to read some and write some every day, but as schedules so often go, the reading and writing come in fits and spurts with little opportunity to do more than take a paragraph or section or scribble some rough thoughts or topics – or maybe a particularly catchy phrase. I dedicated today to editing those pieces together. All three blogs need the time dedication. As does my website. As does a staff training coming up this week. As does a major report for work.

         Fortunately, football fills Sunday television, so I can listen while my vision stays tuned to the screen in my lap.

         As a student, I always hated requirements to edit, particularly when the teacher gave a specifically rigid format for editorial work. Years later Now, after reading much from Anne Lamott and seeing daily encouragement from her Twitter feed, I embrace editing.

         Of course, I embrace it more on my professional/scholarly sites than I do here. Nevertheless, I admit my writing improves with editing as, I suppose, does most everything in life. On my Bible study blog I often preach write about reflection and control. For the writer, editing forces reflection and control.

         In the first draft I always know what I am saying.

         A week later I can only wonder at what I was thinking.

         With the notes before me, I expect to know what I am saying for the next month. We will see how long the dedication to editing continues as I prepare for my annual participation in NaBloPoMo (National Blog Post Month – when bloggers commit to writing a daily post) in November coupled with the daily Advent reflections overlapping the end of the month.

         Now, I take out the red pen.