How many ways can one procrastinate? I have a long way to go to reach the pinnacle of procrastination. When I wrote papers for my classes from grade school through graduate school, I was obsessed with having them ready to turn in before the due date. Once an assignment was given, I began working on it right away. Whether the assignment was due the following day, the next week or at the end of a semester, I felt pressured to have it ready on time. Now the pressures rarely have any of the dire outcomes I anticipated if I was late for anything, but often I create my own dire outcomes.

Procrastination may not have come easy, but is an art I am rapidly learning. Putting things off is one thing, yet stuff needs to be done so happily or grudgingly or at times obsessively, I still want to do things on time. If I don’t get to the airport well before the suggested 2 hour time frame I panic. I need to get to the theater at least a half hour before the show even if the seats are reserved. That gives me plenty of time to judge all those folks who are scrambling to find seating at the last moment, or even worse once the show has begun!

I am however becoming a master at doing lots of things in preparation for doing or starting a project and can spend an inordinate amount of time planning my planning. Getting any necessary supplies together adds to the slowness of my completing anything. Lists must be written, and I will even rewrite a list that has a grammatical error or is messy-like anyone at the grocery store would notice or give a shit that I misspelled cereal. Which I would never do!

All this preparatory writing is to set the stage for what I did today.  Going to the gym and the bank was done in a very timely fashion, but once home with plans in mind for what I wanted to do, the effort to follow through took multiple turns and as I write this I still haven’t done anything I’d planned. I am working towards my goals but have sat here at my desk shuffling through all the lists that clutter it and deciding what to throw away. Ultimately I don’t throw anything away and end up with neater piles of scraps of paper. I’ll do it tomorrow….

I do not need to write this and as I do I consider the fact that nobody needs to or will read it. Not only that but what I am putting off are things that I look forward to having time to do, like painting. And painting is a good excuse for putting off vacuuming. I used to be fanatical about having a house devoid of fur tumbleweeds, but now? Sitting on the porch doing nothing is a perfectly good alternative and gives me time to contemplate all the stuff I could be, or should be, doing. I get a goodly amount of mental exertion by running ideas in circles around my head. That is comparable to the circles I spin while standing in the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom or walking through the house. I need a spinometer. That is an idea that I can take hours pondering. Hmm?

F schools article

Sarah McIntosh: Empty rhetoric on education

By Sarah McIntosh
Special to The Sun

Published: Sunday, August 3, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.

Last Modified: Friday, August 1, 2014 at 1:49 p.m.

The words used by a group of school administrators from seven area counties, who gathered last month in Ocala for a mini-conference to discuss ways to improve school scores, amount to empty rhetoric.

Under the auspices of the Florida Department of Education, the differentiated accountability system is a statewide network designed to help districts improve in several key areas with one primary goal being to improve failing schools. Alachua County’s 40 schools had six “F” schools this year.

Mouthfuls of titles and acronyms show that administrators can come up with some words that have no meaning behind them. Differentiated accountability system? These are big words, so maybe these administrators who focus on statistics can pretend they mean something. What they mean to me is that it’s easy to hide behind big words and ignore the fact that for each number there is a child whose life and whose ability to learn, think and process information is being compromised.

Compromising the learning process may, in fact, be the goal. There may be more to the rhetoric than meets the eye, for if students actually learn to process information, they’d realize Florida’s current educational system is, and I won’t mince words, stupid.

The Sun’s July 15 article about this gathering clarified what was discussed. During this meeting of the minds, one word was dramatically missing: learning. The article mentions five points that were discussed, yet only one of these points includes the word “student” and only in terms of monitoring the progress of a student.

Currently, education is all about monitoring and accountability, which are great words on the surface, but in terms of the actual education of students these words take on a different meaning. Statistical averages, test scores and school grades measure absolutely nothing in regard to an individual child. A teacher or group of teachers who work closely with a child and who see the progress, or lack thereof, of that student along with the context of that child’s world outside of school and, hopefully, in conjunction with the child’s parent or caregiver, are much more capable of monitoring and accounting for a student’s grades.

Grading schools based on test scores that supposedly show the effectiveness of teachers is also worthless and wasteful. Owen Roberts, Alachua County’s new superintendent of schools, wrote in a July 20 column that his mission is to “solve the BIG problems of education to sustain our democratic way of life and ensure economic and national security.” As part of his vision, he asks the people of Alachua County to “be responsible for what happens to each child … (to) unite our efforts, resources, experiences and talents to sustain and improve our culture.” He also sees the challenge to create a culture of excellence in schools and commits to focus on student learning and achievement.

These all sound like good points, but his vision seems hampered by more BIG sounding ideas that ring empty in the so-called halls of learning. He shares his story of pulling himself out of poverty and overcoming illness to achieve the success he enjoys. While I applaud his drive, I notice that he mentions his mother who valued education. I must differ when he states “that the achievement of self-sufficiency through education is proof that personal drive, courage and persistence can overcome severe generational poverty.” The idea that just because something is part of a person’s experience is proof that it will work for everyone is a common fallacy.

Certainly there are those who find success despite horrible hardship, but others encounter numerous factors that may create barriers to learning that are almost impossible to get over. Not everyone gets the educational stimulus that Owens received. Most parents do value education, but many situations and factors can interfere with parents being able to participate in their child’s education.

BIG words such as many used in the aforementioned pieces raise questions about how invested the county and state educational administrators really are in the learning process for students, and how invested they are in listening to the teachers and families that deal every day with rules and regulations to satisfy a skewed perception of accountability.

Local economist David Denslow wrote a July 20 column that focused on grade inflation at the college level. The information he presents points to a common attitude carried into colleges by students who have come to expect higher grades. These same students have learned, throughout their school years, how to manipulate their way through tests and classes because they know that a teacher cannot afford to fail them as his or her job is constantly on the line based on student achievement.

Students are at least smart enough to know that the focus of schools is on numbers and money. Learning becomes a secondary, but necessary ordeal for some, while others try to make the best out of a system that doesn’t work. Schools at every level are continuing to churn out students who, sadly for all concerned, neither value learning, nor care to learn. Denslow finds that “students who expect high grades naturally think they are learning a lot.” He cites a survey of University of Florida students that found that less than half study more than 11 hours a week.

My experience teaching college-level classes is that students generally haven’t learned enough to even get to college let alone succeed in college classes, particularly when studying is viewed as incidental to learning. Denslow exposes the reality of the system when he writes “under UF’s funding model, resources are allocated to colleges largely according to the number of students taking their classes. If an introductory class gives mostly ‘A’s’ in exchange for little effort students quickly learn that. Enrollment soars. College revenue rises.”

Just as species in the wild have learned to adapt to rapidly changing environments, so has it taken only a few generations for students to learn that learning is secondary to money. If the state of Florida and its school administrators truly value learning, money would be spent on actually educating students instead of being wasted on conferences and gross payments to testing companies. Students could even learn the meaning of some big words and know when the words are meaningless. So we’re back to where we started: BIG but empty words.

Sarah McIntosh lives in Archer.

What is Stupid?

Stupid Praise:

Back from Too High to Go to Woodstock: Reflections on my life and times, Sarah E. McIntosh in Stupid Schools, Stupid Students: Get Smart once again reveals her intellect, wit, and directness. This time she takes on the world of standardized testing. Listing dozens of examples of “stupid” phrases written by well-intended (though, apparently, under-educated students), McIntosh substantiates the point that standardized testing has done more damage than good in educating America’s children. Teachers, administrators, and parents will whole-heartedly relate.
Valerie. M. D’Ortona, Big T’s Heart’s in Me!

Dreams? Dream on.

“Writter”: When I am a famous writter, I might learn how to spell righter.

I anxiously await this budding author’s bestseller! My definition of “Writter” is meant to be funny.
What isn’t funny is the idea that most students who spell this way, truly believe that they will be successful in their dream job. We can only hope not.

More dream jobs, or jobs student’s dream they can do, to come. Dream on, students, Dream on!

I anxiously await my own bestseller – Yes, I am a dreamer!

I also recollect some of my dreams from childhood, the hopes, the anticipations, the goals. I do know that one of my goals in 3rd grade did not include passing the FSA. While substitute teaching in a 3rd grade class a few weeks ago, I looked at the display of artwork that decorated the lists of goals these 7-8 yr. olds wanted to accomplish in 3rd grade. There must have been goals like learning how to read better or maybe learning about dinosaurs, but if there were, they were overshadowed by the main goal on every single paper: Pass the FSA.

Really! This is on the forefront of every 3rd grader’s mind? These kids can barely tie their own shoes, have not learned how to tell time on an analogue clock (they won’t need to), and have the attention span of a goldfish, and all they can think about is passing a damn test! What about snakes and bugs and ships and cowboys and Indians? Oh…not on the test probably.

Where did all the dreams go? Not dreamland-at least the one in my dreams. This is a fuckin’ nightmare!

Still Stupid!

“My friend died…this experience has made me live every moment of your life to the fullest”
“To speak correctly & write papers w/ good grammar I hope will bring me a good wife”

Here are a couple more examples from student papers that echo the question in a prior post. Is it the schools that are stupid or the students? I am questionably happy to share the wisdom of students who are being manufactured in the educational factories in America.

My Radical Roots are Showing

Radicalism resurfaced!

My book Stupid Schools, Stupid Students: Get Smart draws attention to the urgency for needed changes in  American education policies. My latent radical roots from the 1960s are showing.

Children are dying. Education, learning, growing up are no longer major concerns in the minds of young students. Will I get shot today? This is not a question that should be in the minds of our children. This is not a question that should be in my mind when I am at one of my substitute teaching assignments. There is absolutely no excuse, none whatsoever!
All the arguments about guns and the second amendment are not stopping the murders. While adults argue, children are DYING. There is no argument or excuse that makes this okay. Worse, students being shot in schools is now so common that it barely registers as surprising news.

I am heartened to see a new radicalization of our youth. My attendance at a couple rallies adds another body to the protests, but I need to do more to keep the body count of dead students from rising. Dead kids can’t rise. We must stop the carnage.

Protests in the 60s were about an unjust war and a draft that sent young men off to die in Viet Nam. We had the power of numbers and knowing we were right and could stop the war. That’s what I truly believed, so did a lot of protesters. We stopped the war. Maybe it wasn’t that simple, but our voices and bodies together were a powerful and effective force.

Now the battlefield is on the home front. There’s not even a fucking war!
I will not stand silently nor will I let our youth stand alone.

We may have a lull over the summer, a few weeks without a new bloodbath, at least in a school. I think about huddling in a lockdown with a group of 3rd graders who did not have to be reminded to be silent. They were too scared. The adults knew this was a drill. The kids didn’t. Maybe these students will get a break from worrying and dying.
It is not acceptable to have active shooter drills. Securing schools is not just stupid, it is ineffective. It is not going to secure the minds of our children, secure them from wondering if they will be the next to die.

Right after the unspeakable blood bath (tragedy is too clean) at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, I was in a high school class when, at the end of the day, the fire alarm went off. I did not know whether to take the students outside in case there was a fire or keep them inside in case there was a shooter. We did go out, all of us looking around to see if we were going to be shot.

I guess the title of my book on education should just be Stupid, just fuckin’ Stupid!
Kids won’t have to worry about education or the future if they’re dead.

Incessant testing sucks: a response

Is there any good in incessant testing?

I can only concur with Amanda Lacy-Shitama’s article “Incessant testing does more harm than good” when she asks: “What would happen if we harnessed the power of our collective voice and made the choice as a city to simply stop administering these tests…”
A fifth-grader who needs the math questions read to her because she can’t read, a class of pre-kindergarteners who are told that if they don’t pass the test they can’t go into kindergarten, an entire 3rd grade class given a practice test which was mainly to have them practice to sit still and quietly for 90 minutes? Why? I have yet to meet an educator who is happy with the glut of standardized testing that passes as education. I have never met a student that gained anything useful from taking tests that test nothing.
My years as an educator have given me a front row seat to the decline of academic ability since the days of No Child Left Behind. In my book Stupid Schools, Stupid Students: Get Smart, I intersperse a sampling of the awful work submitted by college level students with commentary about the American public school system. I argue that standardized testing serves no good purpose.
What is revealed is the harm testing does, not just to students, but to teachers, parents and more broadly to society as a whole. Segregating students by race and income is as much the norm now as it was in the years before integration. Lacy-Shitama points out these divisions that are obvious to everyone within the school system.
One thing that students from all backgrounds share is the stress and pressure which they are subject to with the onslaught of high-stakes testing. The emotional burden on students is bad enough, but they are also well aware that the tests they are forced to take are equally detesting to the teachers and school staff.
A general result of the negativity that permeates school classrooms and hallways during test days is an attitude of defeat and apathy. Teachers are expected to pump the students up, schools have banners on the walls promoting how important the tests are, and students are expected to demonstrate their success and feel good about themselves. Everyone knows this is a sham.
Teachers collapse in faculty rooms wound up and tense over having to administer and monitor the test and adhere to the requirements for instructions and rules that are spelled out in testing manuals that detail every aspect of the test and the testing environment.
Students are well aware that the tests are as much, if not more, about measuring teachers and schools, and in many cases they face the tests with apathy at best and more often than not, they don’t even try to pass because they just don’t care.
None of what is mentioned here is new to anyone involved in education, but maybe more to the point is that this attitude translates into attitudes that are eventually displayed by many students when they enter the workforce. A specific skill may be taught and learned, but the greatest drawback and loss is the inability on the part of many young adults to think independently. On the job you can’t ask if it’s on the test. This is the predominate question that is asked by students.
Lacy-Shitama opens her article by imagining what her students hoped for on their very first day of kindergarten, with new clothes, new backpacks and new crayons. As I watched my college students as they neared the end of their schooling, I wondered what they hoped for. I saw new clothes, new shoes and new backpacks and thought: That’s all they think they need to succeed. Looking good on the outside is what matters. They know that they are a number, a statistic, a cog in the machinations of administrations and the government. A standardized test shows nothing but figures.
Yes, we do need to harness our collective power, a premise I expand on at the conclusion of Stupid Schools, Stupid Students: Get Smart. Collective power puts the power to teach in the hands of teachers. Yes, there must be accountability and standards, yet those are always better evaluated by the educational successes of students. These successes cannot be measured by a standardized test. Teachers can teach, but students must learn and that requires the shared responsibility of teachers, students, families and communities.