Attempting, again, to be more consistent about keeping up with this website, I update with a few miscellaneous items.
I begin anew with another writing project. My first foray into nonfiction struck suddenly. Sitting on my front porch a few months ago, I was compelled by some unknown force to run inside to grab paper and pencil, and my hand seemed of its own volition to write the beginnings of a story. I don’t know where it came from or where it will go, but I have switched from pencil to a fountain pen and am going along on the journey.
I continue to add more paintings to my Gallery of Weird Art and am often torn in deciding which craft to pursue. Damn! There are other things that demand my time, even things I enjoy: reading, petting the cats, walking the dog, driving fast, being with or talking with friends and family, eating, zoning out …. And, Damn! There are all those things that demand my time that are less enjoyable: cleaning, laundry, dishes, changing the litter box…Damn!
I think I’ll add some more things into the mix too, but those will emerge at random.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order to remove the Common Core from the state’s educational policy. Maybe he didn’t know that his predecessor, the reptilian Rick Scott had already done this by changing the name of the test to the FSA. The governor replicate wants the new test “streamlined” whatever that means in context of testing.
Call it Common Core, FCAT, or FSA, but the only name that fits is Stupid!
Once again my lack of attention to this website has caused me little pangs of guilt that have finally spurred me into action. It has been a year since the publication of my book Too High to Go to Woodstock: recollections on my life and times. My recollections of this year have been mostly positive and even upbeat, and one theme that has been a constant over this year is that of change. This time of the year brings many, especially media sources, the desire to reflect and recount the major stories and events of the past year. Enough! Rehashing the old stuff gets old. So no rehashing here. Well, just one: CUBS WIN, CUBS WIN! The World Series at last!
Another annoying aspect that comes with the end of a year is that of looking ahead. Looking forward to positive changes is a reasonable objective, but the outcomes do not necessarily follow the best laid plans. Most often any change I faced was tinged with fear or regret, usually accompanied by a stubborn refusal to accept the inevitable. Many of my old “recollections” were simple. NO! I want this moment, day, activity and/or feeling to last forever.
Yet, something has changed. There is an air of excitement about the possibility of doing things differently or of doing different things. I am eager to make changes, but when things don’t go fast enough or go the way I want them to, exasperation and frustration set in.
As I drifted off to sleep last night with my windows open, I heard an owl hoot, a very common sound near my house. I was reminded of the essay “Listening for Owls” by Scott Russell Sanders, and how my new attitude about change has been brought about because I am listening to my inner owl (okay-corny). It may be no coincidence that Sanders lives in Indiana, but my longing to return to the scene of so many of the so-called crimes described in my memoir, is kind of weird considering that most of my life was spent trying to get out, to run from that Midwestern state. That owl last night echoed my thoughts and the mantra that has run through my consciousness this past year: I want to go home! Whiney? Maybe, but as I stirred awake this morning, roused by the distant call of a rooster, my first thought (who knows why it popped into my head?) was of a little sing-song nursery rhyme/ditty I heard as a child and one that seems appropriate to the season:
Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat
Please put a penny in an old man’s hat;
If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do,
If you haven’t got a ha’penny, God bless you.
This doesn’t seem connected to anything else I’ve just written, and I’m not even sure who’s the “you” that God will bless. But…I actually do have a ha’penny, so do I still get a blessing or do I have to look for an old man with a hat?
So I guess I am looking ahead, expectantly, desiring the outcome I want but aware that expectations are not always met.
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.
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!
“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!