Letters to Holly

Thursday, April 20

Can't Sleep. Clown's Gonna Eat Me.

For the third straight night, I awake clear as a bell at 5:30. Las night, I ate no chocolate and drank no caffeine. Yet, I started crashing hard at 10 p.m. and awoke two hours before I needed to. I don’t get it. I feel a little fuzzy in the head from lack of proper sleep. I haven’t had the exercise I’d prefer in the past week, but I have done some serious yardwork. I come home, I work on the drawing (which is looking pretty good; I might not need to ink it), I help with dinner, we eat, watch some TV, and go to bed. I think we need to walk the neighborhood now that we have daylight after work. Or turn off the TV and read for a while. We do have a pile of library books.

I forgot to mention a few days back that we had a visitor to the office, a representative from one of the local theatre companies. I mentioned that I wanted to work with them and that I had performed in Greenville and Spartanburg, and it turns out she’s from the latter. Even graduated from the same high school just four years after me. If I pursue an audition with them, she might be my inroad.

Picture of the Day

We watched a TiFauxed “Nova” last night about an isolated chunk of Madagascar teeming with lemurs and crocodiles that live in caves. One such lemur is the aye-aye. It’s a nocturnal prosimian that uses an elongated middle finger, front teeth, and large ears to dig out ferret bugs out of hollow bush stalks. The cats were utterly bored until they heard the baby crocodiles, after which you couldn’t pay them to stop watching.

In the news

Because Your Sister has taught for more than ten years now, I keep an eye out for teacher articles in the news. Recently, there have emerged only three types of regular stories: teacher-student sex, articles about the weapons/drugs policies catching an honor student with a butter knife/Advil, and No Child Left Behind. This was a bad idea to start with, as it forced states to fund programs mandated by the federal government. A new AP poll of teachers and parents states the following:

1. Nearly eight in 10 parents are confident their local schools will have students up to state standards by the 2013-14 school year target. Yet only half of teachers are confident the kids in their schools will meet that deadline. [Why? Because schools can’t afford teacher aids or separate classes for the handicapped kids. They then move to regular classrooms and affect the grade curve.]

2. Parents and teachers often disagree on daily aspects of education, from the state of discipline to the quality of high schools.

3. 64 percent of teachers say their state standards in reading and math are about right. Most parents agreed. But parents were also twice as likely as teachers - 31 percent to 15 percent - to say current standards are too lenient.

4. The law does demand regular testing and yearly improvement by schools, all aimed at getting 100 percent of children to do grade-level work.

And the last point is what I want to focus on. The notion that 100 percent of students will graduate high school is unrealistic. Schools must be seen as a factory, analogous to those of the steel industry. It takes in a wide variety of raw materials (the kids) and tries to refine them into a stronger product (graduates and citizens). Like with any factory, you can’t expect a 100-percent refinement ratio; you cull scrap before it’s released as a final product. It’s a lovely notion that all students who enter school will emerge as proficient or even adequately prepared to get a job, use a bank, pay taxes, or be generally independent. But that doesn’t happen. There are some kids who just can’t hack school, whether it’s because of handicaps or attitude. And a number of those are genuinely disruptive. That lowers the efficiency of every class they sit in. All kids should get a chance to prove they can live up to a certain level of participation, in groups and on their on. But after that, you have to get draconian. Either they get shipped to a secondary system of classes or they get out of the school.

I advocate a hiatus for bad students. If the grades hit a certain level for a certain amount of time, they are suspended for, oh, let’s say a year. They are given a job and as much “real world” experience as possible. At the end of that time, you evaluate the student and see if they want to go back and try school again. If they don’t, fine. They stay out of school. Save that student’s allotted state money to help students who do want to be there and make an effort. I encountered many a student who was there simply because the law demanded it and were given no incentive to perform from their parents as the kids were planned all along to go into the family business. And frankly, some kids don’t need the higher level of classes to graduate. They are content to get what we might call a “guild degree.” If you want to be a mechanic, you don’t need AP English. And you shouldn’t be considered part of the same academic class as those who tackle every AP course so they can go to an Ivy League school. Let’s make a guild tract for students.

Let’s make the curriculum distinct for students with different goals and career prospects. Otherwise, we’re trying to make every student perform to a level that not all require or can achieve, and in doing, lowering the ability of teachers to demand the most of their classrooms.

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The Cubs are 9-5 and second in their division.

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