Sunday, January 31, 2010

Snow Celebration for a Half-Century

January 29, 2010

Snow came to celebrate the anniversary of my 29th birthday!

Just at 4 inches of snow.
2.5 hours later we had topped 8 inches.

January 30 - After Snow Blow
It snowed heavily for at least 3 hours after the 4:30 reading, so this one can hardly be accurate.

Walking in the snow is good exercise.

Step into my woods!

Walking Park at Stewart Park.

Back home Lester laughs because I almost fell.

Inside my birthday flowers warm me from the inside out.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Can You Dumb That Down For Me?

I recently heard two statements that I find disturbing. Let me begin with a disclaimer that I have not researched the validity of either. I am responding on the basis that perception is truth (and sometimes it is).

A. Arkansas high school students are not meeting the minimum standards for math; thus we need to lower the minimum.
B. The Arkansas Challenge Scholarship has a disproportionate distribution to African American students because the ACT minimum is too high; thus we need to lower the minimum.

Obviously, I am paraphrasing, but this is the essence of the statements. The bottom line is Arkansas is being called upon to lower minimum standards because we are not performing on an acceptable level. Can you dumb that down for me?

College remediation is like a small stream in a dark cave that trickles along and eventually touches everything in the cave system. Students who need remediation in math, English, or reading have added expenses and a delayed graduation. Parents of these students are charged with finding additional funding. Colleges are charged with providing staff for leaning and tutoring centers, in addition to the extra educational needs for instructors who teach the remedial curriculum. Taxpayers finance a good portion of remedial instruction and required materials by funding grants and scholarships that students use to pay for education. Nearly everyone in the state is touched by the trickle down of college remediation in some manner.

The 2007 legislature created the Access to Success Task Force to address this and other problems in the Arkansas educational system. Their findings (based on the 2007-2008 academic year) on remediation are stunning. Nearly 40% of student enrollment in 4 year institutions of higher learning needed remediation (English 22.5%, Math 33%, Reading 21%). I read that number and sat with my mouth gaping as wide as I thought possible . . . until I read the next chart. Nearly 78% of student enrollment in 2 year institutions needed remediation (English 48%, Math 67%, Reading 42%).

Based on these numbers, it is fair to say high school students are graduating without basic skills in readin, ritin, and rithmatic. Sending a student to college without basic skills is paramount to sending him into that dark cave with a candle -- but no matches. Colleges are reacting by building learning centers and providing tutoring. Is that the answer, or does it provide a manner for institutions of higher ed to dumb it down? Obviously, a portion of the population believes that we should dumb down higher education because we hear these demands for lowering the minimum standards for entering and financing higher ed. However, some will argue that colleges should not provide remediation at all. Colleges do not receive funding that is based on or addresses the need for remediation in the classroom or learning centers.

The time when college is a privilege granted to students with exceptional academic skills and plentiful financial resources are gone. Anyone can go to college today. Thus we accept underprepared students and strive to catch them up. Instead, we need to narrow that gaping abyss between high school and college. This may mean changing the relationship between colleges and high schools. That might mean creating an office of outreach to work as a liaison between colleges and high schools. It might mean a reward or bonus system for teachers who take additional courses or workshops that enable them to better prepare students. It might mean bringing back Summer School for schools or students who fail to meet minimum standards.

I do no not pretend to know all of the nuts and bolts behind how the Arkansas educational system got into this situation or what we need to do to get out of it. I am merely an observer. Obviously, there is more to it than what we observe on the surface, but one thing has had a huge impact on the system. That is funding. High schools have to perform on the Benchmark exams to keep funding, so students are taught to take a test. Where is the critical thinking? The question is pointless if students do not know how to read or articulate critical thoughts. Can you dumb that down for me?

New college funding rewards graduation and retention numbers. Unfortunately, we need more funds to serve the underprepared students. Should we push these students through the higher ed system without caring about the quality of education they receive? Sometimes it seems like that is what the State wants us to do. Leave no child behind. Dumb it down. Get those numbers up. Do what it takes to make it look pretty on the surface.

And the consequence? We are graduating educators who do not know how to educate those high school students who will become college students who need remediation in order to get an education to educate others.

Unless Arkansas finds a way to infuse education with higher standards and provide the necessary services to meet those standards, we will always be have the image of an ignorant hillbilly. Wait . . . the hillbilly can do enough math to prosper selling shine.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

They Smile Back

We have all seen that movie where the wife sneaks some type of nearly undetectable poison into her husband’s food. They call her the Black Widow because she moves on to another hubby as soon as she gets her insurance check on the dear departed. It is the same old plot, time and time again.

I have not seen the variation where the Black Widow is actually a daughter, but that is what I feel like right now. Over the holidays I dug out the recipe for my mothers Old Timey Sour Dough bread. It is delicious, but it takes a couple of days to make. I took the first loaf to Daddy, and he loved it so much that I got busy and made another batch. There is very little that I can do to brighten Daddy’s day, but this seemed to do the trick. I made myself a little vow to take him bread every week.

Daddy is on a very restrictive diet, and potassium is his worst enemy. He has to watch it very carefully and never eat any of the good foods, like taters and naners, that are full of potassium. We talked about the ingredients before he ate any. I told him there is nothing here but flour and a few spices. A very little bit of sugar. It seemed safe enough to eat . . .

. . . UNTIL Daddy went to the doctor for a routine check-up. Blood tests exposed an extraordinary and dangerous amount of potassium. Thus, my father was prescribed a rather nasty medicine to take. Where could that have come from? He had been so very careful about what he ate.

It was the bread. Even though I am the one who made the starter and the bread, it never occurred to me that the potatoes in the starter contained enough potassium to kill my father. With every slice of bread, I poisoned my father. As soon as he finished one loaf, I was busy making another one. It goes without saying that I never meant to hurt my father. I love him. I adore him. My relationship with him is a close one, and I cannot imagine life without him. Still yet, without even thinking about it, I was hurting him.

Sadly, it is not unusual for us to hurt the people we love without realizing what we are doing. The truth is that we spend a lot more time trying not to hurt, offend, inconvenience Stranger on the Street than we do our own family. We live in this polite society where we plaster a smile on our faces, even when we are doing something unpleasant OR having someone treat us in an unpleasant manner. When we go home to the people we love, all the poisonous hurt and insults that have been suppressed all day comes to the surface and spews out like hot lava. Our loved ones cannot help but contracting some of the poison, and we do not even realize it is there.

The most obvious way that we hurt our loved ones is by mouth. When the counterfeit smile is gone, ugly words and a sharp tongue are unloosed. Nothing poisons our relationships with father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, and friend more than the words that slip out of our mouth. They cannot be taken back, and “I’m sorry” is only a Band-aid for a gaping wound.

There are other ways we hurt the ones we love. Time is our most precious relationship
commodity. I regret all the ballgames I missed, so I could work overtime or take a nap before supper. Why did I tell the children to go watch TV when we could have been playing a game, taking a walk, cooking together? But they understood that I was too tired or had work to do. Right? That is what I thought at the time, but the reality is I was hurting them. I did not know it. I did not mean to. Still yet, I was poisoning my relationship with my children just as surely as I was poisoning my father with potassium.

The antidote is love. Devote more time to your loved ones. Say I love you more frequently. Spend Sunday afternoon playing a card game or monopoly or fishing together. If you can suppress those bad feelings and slap on a smile for a disagreeable stranger, you can do it for your family. Indeed, it is even easier because they smile back!