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4/22/21

Testing, Testing 123

 Testing, Testing 123


     Want to see a teacher curse ? Maybe not out loud, but I’m pretty sure they’ll internalize profane thoughts the moment you mention standardized tests. They resent the time spent on testing materials, testing procedures, testing review, testing pep rallies (yes they really are a thing) and the days missed out of actual teaching because of the preparation and administration of the test. They also resent the fact that they are required to assist with test administration AND are blamed when students don’t do well….or well enough. The USDOE has allowed testing companies to determine testing procedures, so during those days and weeks when tests are reviewed or actually given teachers are told not to actually teach or do anything that might possibly distract students from THE TEST. 

     Tests are nothing new to education. Teachers have been creating and administering their own tests since, well, since there were teachers.  They use tests to determine what students know or don’t know, and also to give them an idea of the effectiveness of whatever teaching techniques they use. Every teacher knows that every student learns in different ways at different times and each student responds effectively to some methods but not to others. That’s what differentiation is all about.  Want to see this in action? If you have two children, you already know it. For every Wally there is a Beaver, and for every Marsha there’s a Jan. Now take those personalities and add 23 or 24 more completely different entities in one class, mix in two or three students with learning disabilities  and a couple of kids with 504 plans and you begin to get an idea of just how difficult teaching really is even without the imposition of other things we think should be a teacher’s responsibility.

     So when did these tests become such a big deal to students, to teachers, to schools, to districts and to states?  Back in the 1950’s and 60’s (and even before) students would spend a few hours of one school day taking the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (or something like it) but there was little or no anxiety or commotion because the test results were not used to evaluate students, teachers, schools or states.  The results were used to - hold on to your hats - let teachers know which students might benefit from remedial instruction or review in specific academic areas. Teachers and Administrators could look at the results and actually use them to improve instructional practices. That all changed with NCLB in 2002, and education allowed people that had obviously never heard of the bell curve to decide that we would all work toward 100% proficiency for every child in every subject, and if there wasn’t sufficient progress toward that goal then a progressively stringent series of tortures would occur, including more and more tests. When this didn’t work, all the politicians seemed surprised and decided it must be the fault of bad teachers so they decided to do what politicians always do; throw more money at the problem and make it even more punitive with Race to the Top. This initiative was more costly, was still based primarily on student test scores and tried to slip in a national curriculum at the same time. If Lewis Carroll had written this script we all would have thought “this is pretty entertaining but I suspect a profound chemical imbalance affected the script design.”

     I have often wondered how politicians can say with a straight face that every student deserves an individualized, personal education and that we are going to measure that education with a test that’s the same for everybody.  They really must believe it, though, because testing companies are raking in over $1.7 BILLION per year from states for mandated standardized testing. Costs per student vary from state to state, but the money totals are significant. Georgia spends about $14 per student on testing per year, Hawaii spends $105 and DC $114. (You can figure that disparity out.) That means Georgia spends over $25 million on mandated standardized tests each year.  That’s not just $14 per student, it also means about $209 per teacher and about $10900 per school that could be used for something - anything - else.  Whether the money comes from state coffers or from the USDOE, it’s all from taxpayers and provides useless information that teachers cannot use in the classroom to improve instruction.

     Wait a minute - what? Of course they can use the information. Not so fast, my friend. Schools don’t receive standardized test scores until the fall of the following school year, too late for them to use because the students have moved on to another grade and other classes. The scores they get are nothing but autopsy reports that benefit only politicians. Teachers are not allowed to know the questions, discuss the questions or have input in designing the questions their students are to answer.  Besides that, students and teachers must sign a nondisclosure agreement before the tests are given, and are encouraged to report any student or teacher they overhear discussing the test. I’m not making this up. Just for good measure, you might want to find out what testing coordinators at each school are required to do.  If they don’t account for every test booklet, for every set of test questions for every student for every test administered and attest to a mandated chain of custody for those items, they can lose (and have lost) teaching certification. 

     Then there’s the 95% requirement.  That means 95% of every school’s student population must take the test.  No excuses.  Only 1% exceptions. So no matter about Special Education students or IEP’s or 504’s or learning disabilities or physical handicaps or student absenteeism or behavior disorders or family issues the test is administered.  And all scores count. Of course we all expect all scores to improve.  Every year. If they don’t then the problem can’t be with the test it has to be those bad teachers again.  Maybe we should beat them with the stick that had the carrot on it.

     So what do we get from all the taxpayer money the states and the USDOE people spend on testing each year? What we get is - take a deep breath - state and local tests given in an attempt to prepare students for federally mandated standardized tests. Preparing students for testing by giving more tests is like the farmer that wanted to increase the weight of his cows so he weighed them more often. 

     So surely these test scores are good for something, right? Like predicting success in college? You might think that, but you would be wrong.  The best predictor of student success across four years of college study is high school grade point average.  Say it with me; HIGH SCHOOL GRADE POINT AVERAGE (ERIC # ED502858). HSGPA, as an admissions criterion for colleges, also has less adverse consequences on disadvantaged and minority students than standardized tests.  You might want to read that one again. It seems that the single most consistent result of standardized tests is known as the zip code effect.  They have been designed since their inception to discriminate. These inherently biased  tests can accurately predict the socio-economic status of the family of the student test taker with uncanny results. In other words, not only are the tests undeniably prejudiced, they have never been accurate and reliable measures of student learning. Ever. Add to that the fact that we are the ONLY country that uses these abominations to judge educational quality. Wonder why? Because the tests were originally designed to replicate racial and economic inequality. They don’t just define the achievement gap, they create and serve to perpetuate that division.

     So why do we keep spending this money and giving these tests and subjecting students and teachers to needless pressure and stress? The answer seems to be simple. Testing companies want to continue making big money and they currently make more than enough to be able to contribute to political campaigns. The real purpose goes much deeper; testing is designed to give the appearance that public education is failing.  This allows politicians to divert more and more public funds to private education to pay for their kids and grandkids. Standardized testing, in its present form, is nothing more than educational malpractice on a national scale. 

     I once heard a quote from the CEO of a sandwich company about his business philosophy. “Everyone in this building has one job, and that’s to sell our sandwiches.  If you’re not doing that, you’d better be helping someone who is.” I think we should apply that philosophy to teaching and finally put our educational reform efforts toward productive educational policies.  What a novel concept - trusting teachers to help kids. That’s a reform from which we could all benefit. Especially students.

  


1/29/21

How To Eat A Chocolate Cake


     Mrs. Moore at Raines Elementary was one of my favorite teachers of all time, and part of that was because she challenged us to do things we were all pretty sure we couldn’t do.  She didn’t come out and verbally issue a challenge like we were going to have a duel, she just expected results that most of us were pretty sure she wasn’t going to get.  Not completely, anyway. Like most teachers of the time, she wrote on the blackboard and we were expected to write down pretty much everything she wrote. That doesn’t sound too bad in itself, until I tell you that she wrote with her right hand and erased with her left hand at the same time. The words would be up there for us to see - in cursive, of course - and when she finished two lines she would begin to write on the third and simultaneously erase the first line while continuing on with her writing, so by the time she got to the bottom of the board the top was already clear for her to begin again. It was an impressive thing to watch, especially since most of us couldn’t rub our stomach and pat our head at the same time. It also meant that our room had more chalk dust per capita than any other two rooms at Raines, and I’m pretty sure she had to pay the custodians extra to clean each evening.

     I learned a lot in Mrs. Moore’s room, and still diagram a sentence or two just for fun in my spare time, but there was one time she almost lost me. She handed out a mimeograph, all purple and white and still a little damp, with 100 prepositions in alphabetical order. Remember the smell of mimeographs? It was the smell of elementary school for many years until Xerox ruined it.  Every test, every study sheet and every handout was a mimeo, and the first thing every one of us did was sniff it before we looked at it. This one was a full page. There were 5 rows of 20 words each, and I thought it was a pretty neat reference sheet to have handy.  That’s when she dropped the bomb - it wasn’t a reference sheet.  I will mention that Mrs. Moore was rather insidious in that way.  She would say something we thought was innocuous that in the next sentence turned into an impossible situation for us.  Here it was again. We had to memorize it. All 100 words. In order. Before next Monday. Since this was Monday afternoon, we figured out pretty quickly that we had a week left to live, because nobody thought they could do it. Nobody in my group, anyway.

     The bike ride home after school that day helped me forget, for a while, the impossible assignment. That and the magic saddlebags on the back of my bike. I thought they were magic because a lot of the stuff I put in there - homework, tests for parent signature, report cards and other school stuff - often disappeared and magically reappeared just before or after the due date. I wasn’t sure how that happened, but there did seem to be a combination gravitic/temporal anomaly in there somewhere, but it didn’t happen with this one because I had to let my Mama know that my teacher had finally gone nuts.

     I had tried this tactic with Mama before, and it had failed every time. My teachers would make some crazy, off the wall requirement that was clearly impossible or excessive or an exotic combination of the two and I would get home as quickly as I could to show Mama they had finally gone over the edge. I was a little slow in figuring out that Mama and my teachers had a mystic, cosmic connection that required them to agree with each other and for each to not only understand the others’ madness but to approve of and reinforce its manifestations.

     It was the same this time.  Mama did not seem upset or concerned about the draconian expectations of Mrs. Moore, and, after she sniffed the paper, quickly scanned it and handed it back to me.  “You’d better get started” she said, “those prepositions aren’t going to memorize themselves.” I was crestfallen. My biggest supporter, benefactor and confidant had once again taken the teacher’s side. Was it possible that the whole world was crazy and I just hadn’t figured it out yet? Was it possible that once again that mystic, cosmic teacher/parent connection appeared at just the right moment to ruin my life forever? Was there after all a secret parent/teacher society that required one to support the other even to the point of abandoning their children? Alas, that certainly seemed to be the case.

     I took the paper with a look of dejection that must have been apparent to Mama. I was, after all, reasonably objective about the ups and downs of  life except when it concerned my model planes, Boy Scouts or baseball, and she had the ability to read my moods like a book.  “It’s like eating a chocolate cake” she said. “You can do this with no problem.” That pretty much did it for me. She was on the teacher’s side again.  I resigned myself at that moment to failing the 6th grade, dropping out of school and joining the army.  I already had my own genuine surplus army helmet and canteen belt, so I had a head start there. I was big for my age, so they might believe I was 17 and take me without calling the house. I’ll bet they didn’t have to memorize prepositions in their foxholes.

     Mama interrupted my foray into abject self-pity with “did you hear what I said?” “Yes ma’am” I replied, “but I didn’t think you were paying attention.” She smiled at me and asked “how do you eat a chocolate cake?” I knew I had to answer, so I said “as quickly as I can so my brothers won’t steal it.” It was honest, but not what she was looking for.  “No, silly,” she said, “you eat it one bite at a time.” She thought that would conclude the matter, but I didn’t get the connection.  She saw my confusion and explained further; “if your job was to eat a whole chocolate cake, could you do it?” I had to think.  A whole cake was a lot, even for me, and I wasn’t sure I could finish the whole thing at one time, but I was willing to try.  I decided to play her silly game to see where it went. “I probably couldn’t eat it all at once” I told her, “but if I could hide it from my brothers I’m sure I could do it in two days.”

     “I’m sure you could, too” she offered, “but that’s not exactly what I meant.  What I mean is that if you have a big cake to eat the best way to finish it is one bite at a time.” She waited a moment for the light bulb to go on over my head. After a few long seconds it finally did, and I told her “so you mean that if I cut the cake into slices and eat one slice now and one later and one later after that pretty soon the whole cake will be finished.” “That’s exactly it, and if it applies to chocolate cake it will also work with prepositions” she stated with a small degree of smugness that I have often noted in teachers. “OK, so just to be clear, you’re telling me that if I memorize 5 or so prepositions today and 5 or so tomorrow that maybe this isn’t quite as impossible as it sounds?” “See” she said cheerfully, “I knew you would find a solution to this” and turned and walked quickly to another room where my little brother had been suspiciously quiet for the last several minutes.. 

     Left alone for a moment, I tried to think through what had just happened.  Again. My teacher had gone nuts, my Mama had backed her up and shown me how to do what I was pretty sure couldn’t be done and had managed to give me credit for figuring out something she had actually figured out and explained and left me to feel good about doing what she was actually responsible for.  I gave up after a few minutes of confusion, pulled out the mimeograph for one more sniff and started to memorize the first 5 words. They had tricked me into succeeding once again. I was merely a pawn in the giant chess game of life, and was becoming more and more convinced that  real power in life was in the hands of Moms and teachers. Or both.

     

     


12/29/20

WERE YOU THERE WHEN THE CURVE GOT FLAT?

    WERE YOU THERE WHEN THE CURVE GOT FLAT?


     We’ve been trying to do our part (mostly) by wearing a mask and staying at home (sort of) and not holding family ...OK, we’ve done a lot of hand washing and stuff, and I just got to thinking about just when that curve might be flattened enough so people that make decrees would think it’s safe to come out again? I can’t find anybody that knows.  Some even think that months and years might stretch into practically never, and I’m not prepared for that kind of sacrifice for me or my kids or my grandkids. You’re probably not either.

     Trying to find a few answers, I found the place where the curve itself seems to have originated way back in March (https://www.flattenthecurve.com).  This is also the place where the lockdown idea was thought to have come from, and, according to the site, was developed by some not so well known people and an assistant professor from Oregon State.  There doesn’t appear to be a lot of research to back the theory, but I would guess that most people, when asked about the ideas’ validity, heard “well, it’s based on a mathematical concept” and immediately stopped listening and said “If it’s based on math don’t try to explain and I’ll just do whatever it is you want.” So we have. Mostly.  Sort of.

     What really happened was that Bill Gates said he thought it would be a great idea and most of us bought it because he must know all the answers because he has most of the world’s money and why would he lie? China did lockdowns, but what they did was several levels above and beyond anything allowed in the US unless you are a Cuomo, and even he can only go so far before someone stands up and says “enough is too much.”

     I’ve never understood why the opinions of Bill and other “famous” people were immediately sought for solutions of any type, much less those opinions about actions to be taken in a health emergency. Do we actually believe that because they are, for whatever reason, famous that means they must be endowed with Mensa level IQs and powers of divination and mystical abilities beyond the ken of mere mortals? Evidently, some of us do. I, for one, do not.

     For those of you, however, that are grounded in reason and facts and seek more information to make your own decisions, the answer you most often will get is whatever you come to believe has been “debunked” as a conspiracy theory. “Debunked” for the uninitiated is a term that originally meant “disproven” but in the 1990’s Hillary changed the definition to “that idea is not something we like or approve of so we will tell everyone you’re nuts if you believe that.” It no longer means proof is involved, simply the application of the term “debunked” to indicate if you believe something besides what we want you to believe, your level of intelligence is not very high.  Certainly not on the Clintonian level.

     So we are to believe that all doctors and disease transmission experts and microbiologists and mathematicians and Jeff Bezos believe that lockdowns are an effective way of fighting COVID?  Maybe even the ONLY way? Not so fast, my friend. It seems that infectious disease epidemiologists and public health officials have other ideas. It doesn’t seem they have yet been “debunked” but maybe that’s why NBC and the other alphabets haven’t said anything about them. As of this moment there are 

712, 345 concerned citizens, 13,084 medical and public health scientists and 39,544 medical practitioners that believe lockdown are ineffective, inefficient, cruel and counterproductive in solving the COVID crisis, and that maybe, just maybe, there’s another solution.

    Short and long term public health effects of lockdowns include drastic decreases in childhood vaccination rates, fewer cancer screenings, higher risk for cardiovascular disease patients - all leading to higher mortality rates in years to come - at least one year of school lost for most students, a drastic increase in mental health issues, and irreparable damage to our economy, especially small business. Our ECONOMY you scream! Is money all you’re worried about you heartless ...No, it’s not just about money, but the connection between personal income and food is an important one.  One UN report surmises that lockdown restrictions worldwide will lead to millions suffering from hunger and about 10,000 children per month are perishing from starvation. Lockdowns have ended vaccination projects for measles and polio, and resultant measles outbreaks have already occurred.  Estimates of 400,000 deaths from the lack of TB treatments have or will occur in the poorest countries soon, and it’s a sure bet surges in polio will soon follow.

     But lockdowns have been proven to work, right? I mean, surely there’s a history of success with that method in eradicating infectious diseases? So you might think, but you would be wrong.  Basic epidemiological disease theory tells us that lockdowns not only fail to reduce the total infection rate, they have NEVER IN HISTORY led to the eradication of any disease. Never.  Ever.  In History.  At best they can delay infection rates for a short period of time and at great human cost. Eventually lockdowns will fail, partly because of human nature and partly because infection rates will eventually rise.

     So what’s a better option?  Is there one? Yes, Virginia, there is.  One methodology is Focused Protection.  You can read about it for yourself at https://gbdeclaration.org/  “What’s this?” you ask.  “Why have I never heard of this? It sounds important.” You’ve never heard of it because all of our news people have been replaced by social influencers that don’t really care much about anything but being socially influential. Science tells us that the COVID virus is more than 1000 times more dangerous to our older population than to children and young adults. Adopting measures to protect those in nursing homes and retirees should be a focus while allowing those with minimal risk of death to live normally.  Hand washing and staying at home when sick and other common sense procedures will allow our population to reach the herd immunity threshold quickly. Schools should be opened, activities resumed, restaurants and other businesses should be reopened and church services restarted.

     Unlike lockdown procedures, herd immunity is not heartless and has not been “debunked” by science. Now that several vaccines have been developed and made available, those and herd immunity will soon contain the disease, and lockdowns will fall into that category of things that were tried and failed, a lot like “duck and cover” that was supposed to protect school children in case of a nearby nuclear blast.   Some might still insist that lockdowns be continued in spite of their negative results and the law of unintended consequences. If so, perhaps we should investigate the motives of those that cry “follow the science” and ignore what the science says. Perhaps they are lying dog faced pony soldiers, and their motives are more insidious than the disease itself. Sometimes control can be a dangerous drug in its own right. Maybe there’s a lockdown for that one, too.



7/11/20

True Confessions

     I used to be a Socialist.  Well, sort of anyway.  As much of a socialist as an 18 year old in the middle of Mississippi in 1970 with a brand new high school diploma could be.  There I was with my long hair, bell bottoms, new saxophone and a hastily developed attitude of moral superiority that seemed to grow with every day that went by.  My circadian rhythms were completely backwards because on weekends I usually went to bed around 4 or 5 am and slept till 3 or 4 in the afternoon because most of the stuff I was interested in being a part of was happening at night. Especially Friday and Saturday nights.  Mama said that nothing good ever happened after 10 pm, and she was probably aware that at that age “nothing good” was exactly what I was on the lookout for. My parents had been pretty strict, but I had worn them down over the years and when I turned 18 or so they were used to me being out late playing on the weekends because for better or worse I had decided to change the world through music and that meant late nights in some places they would rather I not be. It wasn’t nearly as glamorous as I made it out to be but at that age it was a taste of freedom I had not known before.

  Woodstock had gone on without me just a couple of years before, and I remember the feelings of frustration when my mother wouldn’t let me take her VW bug to New York to at least try to get there through the traffic and blocked roads.  I mean really, I had been driving for over a year and I told her I would be careful and we all knew that bad stuff only happened to other people, so what was her problem anyway?  I had, as much as possible in the center of Mississippi, developed what I later described as a semi-hippie attitude to go along with my semi-hippie attire (including bell bottom fringe and worn sandals), and money wasn’t really an issue because I had no bills. The $40-50 a week I made being a rock and roll star covered my expenses pretty well, and Mama made sure I had plenty to eat. Daddy had threatened to charge me for sleeping and eating in his house but hadn’t gotten to that point yet.

     I had convinced myself, with teenage assurity, that I had an enormous number of solutions to societal problems but couldn’t seem to get anyone to ask me the questions that would allow those solutions suitable widespread presentation and implementation. It probably didn’t help my case or my presentation that I considered my mere presence as beneficial to both my family and the world, and seldom suffered from the self doubt and lack of assurance that I read about in books. Like most teenagers, though, I wasn’t politically active because politics was an ugly game, and because my parents wouldn’t even consider letting me participate in demonstrations and protests.

     I was also convinced that LBJ’s Great Society was a good thing, and that giving money to everyone that needed it was part of responsible government policy. That was before I found out that a lot of the money they were giving away was going to come from my paycheck. I spent a summer driving a forklift and stacking plywood at a company in Oxford in between rock bands, and I was at first convinced there had been a processing mistake with how much the government took of my weekly check and, after learning that “no, young man, there’s no mistake” from the company bookkeeper, astounded but resigned to the fact that this legalized appropriation was the price of being allowed to work. That was pretty much the moment I began to believe that maybe socialism wasn’t such a great idea after all.

     A lot of my ideas about how things should work had come from sitting around late at night with friends and colleagues in college dorm rooms or off campus housing discussing politics and religion and monetary theory in great depth and detail.  We were all completely inexperienced in practical applications of pretty much anything, but without exception sure of the purity and purpose of our intentions and convictions. Our teachers encouraged us to question things, and we had no trouble following their lead. We were all convinced that “the man” was screwing things up and we could show him (them?) how to fix it all just as soon as we got into a management position...like maybe after working a year or two first.

     We did read a lot about different forms of government; you know, like plutocracy, republic, democracy, theocracy, Marxist, Socialist, dictatorship and Disney, and decided that maybe labels weren’t  a good thing, and that we could all get along if we just all believed in love and gave peace a chance...man. As I got a little older and had to start working full time in order to eat and have electricity and a car and gas - you know the pattern - I started reading things that I wanted to know about instead of stuff I had to read for a grade. One interesting comment that stuck out for me was attributed to William Casey to the effect of “a man at 20 who is not a Socialist has no heart, and a man at 40 who is a Socialist has no brain.” 

     Socialism is an idealistic theory that can’t function effectively in reality because it fails -actually ignores - the fact that all humans are fallible, and when given choices between self interests or altruism will eventually, given enough opportunities, succumb and choose self interest.  Once someone in charge decides they deserve a little extra the whole theory reveals itself as the house of cards it is, the supporting idealism falls by the side of the road and life becomes pretty miserable for everyone except those at the top.  Time and time again history repeats itself, but then someone always says “yeah, but this time will be different” but it never is. Like Yosemite Sam once observed “people is dumber than anybody.”

     One of the other strange things I discovered about Socialists is they never seem to want to give their own money away, but have no qualms or compunctions whatsoever about freely distributing yours.  I learned in elementary school that effective leaders modeled the behavior they wanted others to display.  If that’s true for Socialists, why does Bernie have 3 houses and make millions of dollars? Why do Alexandria and Ilhan not distribute their funds to hospitals or the poor and needy? Could it be that their goal is only Socialism if they get to be in charge of distributing other people’s money? There used to be a kid in our neighborhood like that.  We weren’t allowed to use his football unless we played by his rules that he made up as the game went along. We only played that game once, and never fell for it again. Seems to me that the history of Socialism is full of examples just like the kid that owned the football and made his own rules and always rigged the game to his advantage.  It’s a pretty good deal if you’re the one in charge and not doing without food and electricity and toilet paper or having to eat your neighbor’s pet, but not much fun for anybody else. I must also admit to being a little confused as to why they would want to tear down a system that allowed them to rise to their current positions.  I mean really, isn’t being a representative for your state a pretty significant step up from bar tender or unemployed refugee? Would scrapping a system that not only allowed but encouraged that much upward mobility be a good thing?

     Strangely enough, though, as time went on the more money I made the more money I noticed being taken out of my checks and the less convinced I became that other people deserved part of it without my input.  This gradual change in my belief system coincided, strangely enough, with the addition of experience and maturity, and while neither expanded to the extent I might have hoped I have managed to live longer than I ever expected to, so there’s that.  Now don’t misunderstand - we pay taxes and give money and goods to charities of all types, but we choose those charities and how much of our income we distribute. Taxes are pretty arbitrary, but I look at them as a necessary cost of doing business, and pretty much balanced out by being born in America.

     I also have noted similarities in my attitudes and idealism and beliefs at 18 and those who call themselves socialists today.  Very few have any work experience, very few are contributing members of society, even fewer actually pay the taxes they are willing to designate for free this and free that and the current “if you live here you deserve someone else’s money” programs, and most seem convinced, as I was then, that the way to change a light bulb is to stand on a ladder, hold the bulb up and wait for the world to revolve around you.

     So maybe the answer to anybody screaming about the unfairness of capitalism is to let them have their little socialism fantasies for the 4 or 5 years of college and wait until they graduate or flunk out and have to get a job and life changes their mind. Perhaps they should have the privilege of living in a socialist country for a year or two just to reap a little bit of what they are trying to sow. Maybe while they’re at it they could pay for all the stuff they broke while having their little tantrums about having their way or holding their breath until they turn blue. Like the little kid having the tantrum in the grocery store, the only way they can win is if nobody steps in to be the parent and just gives them what they want to make them stop. Mama had a saying for that situation too. “If you don’t correct it, you are teaching it.” These tantrums are the height of selfishness and juvenile behavior, and need to be corrected. Immediately. Somebody has to be the adult around here. It’s probably too late to teach them what it means to get the switch they’re gonna get used on them, but somebody has to stand up and tell them no...and mean it. I don’t think timeout is going to work at this point.


5/21/20

Singing Those Stay At Home Covid Blues

     Betsy and I have been mostly following the latest version of the required and/or suggested stay-at-home-shelter-in-place-if-you-don’t-want-to-die policies since this whole thing started, either in February or 3 years ago, one or the other. Most of it hasn’t been too hard, but we did experience a few unintended consequences with the online ordering thing that eventually took over most of our daily activities.  She ordered, for example, the requisite face masks online but didn’t notice they came from China and cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 apiece shipping costs, and we got 100 of them. They arrived after about 4 weeks, which wasn’t too bad considering where they came from, but they were sort of lost in the flurry of deliveries that soon became a flood. We live on a gravel road that is essentially one way with no room to pass, so the UPS and FedEx trucks found themselves meeting each other coming and going, and there were occasions where words were exchanged between drivers and a fistfight or two was narrowly avoided by me negotiating a coin flip to see who would back up and allow the other truck to enter or leave the only access road to our driveway. It was pretty cool to watch the trucks radiator to radiator as one of them backed skillfully at 30 mph or so along the twists and turns of the half mile one lane gravel road so the other guy could enter or exit, dependent of course, on the result of the coin toss. After a few days of traffic jams  I solved this problem by installing, right where our gravel road meets the paved road, a red light/green light system activated by an infrared sensor so when one truck or the other was on the way or returning to the pavement from our house it wouldn’t meet another one bringing yet another delivery. In addition to solving the traffic issue, this also provided, for those trucks waiting for the road to clear, a few moments to get out of their trucks and socialize with the other guys in line and already waiting. There were sometimes as many as 3 or 4 delivery trucks waiting for their turn for the light to turn green so they could enter our one lane road.  An enterprising young kid from the neighborhood set up a small shelter just off the pavement with a few chairs and donuts and soft drinks and coffee.  He recognized a business opportunity when he saw it. I think he’s raising money to help his parents support his Call of Duty habit, but regardless of the reason it’s nice to see capitalism at work in the young.

     Our iphones have received a good bit more attention than usual and I think the dog is beginning to get jealous. When one of us picks up a phone, she sniffs disdainfully, looks away and goes to another room. I’ve also noticed that both of us respond like Pavlov’s dogs when the little “ding” announces a text or message. Neither of us can let the notice go unnoticed, and pick up the phone to see what’s there, even if the other one is in the middle of a sentence. When that happens I can hear my Mom in the back of my head saying “hmmmm” which means “don’t ignore another person to look at a telephone.  It’s rude.” She’s right, but it’s an easier habit to get than to break.

     We were a little concerned that the grandkids were not really getting too much out of their online lessons, and offered to help their parents out by conducting “school” at our house - with appropriate social distancing of course - for one day.  The class went fine for about 30 minutes until the snacks ran out, and then the students became surly and uncooperative...or maybe that was the teachers.  Either way, the math lessons quickly deteriorated into a knot tying class that never made it past the knots on my fishing rods because there were several and they all needed new lines and swivels and stuff.  We took the kids home after lunch and wondered if they would ever get out of their current grade level. I reassured Nana that our parents once thought the same thing about us, and that sometimes taking a class 3 or 4 times could be, in the long run, beneficial in many ways.  After that experience I read where the homeschooling experience had resulted in a rather sharp increase of reports of teacher intoxication and the inappropriate use of profanity during class. The report failed to mention whether the profanity was from parents, students or both.  I predict significant raises in both status and pay for teachers in all grades as soon as this thing is over and schools open again.

     Like most Americans, we have increased our television time significantly and originally thought we might improve our knowledge base by watching interesting documentaries or educational shows, but that hasn’t happened. We discovered that Betsy and I have radically different tastes in television. She follows local and national news religiously, and is an expert on all things COVID, at least until the next day’s report has new facts that prove the old ones false.  She also watches reruns of Shark Tank and every house show ever made, and finds herself telling the contestants “you’re gonna be sorry you didn’t finance that kid” and “any idiot can see there’s no room for entertaining in the 2nd house.” I despise news shows of any type and refuse to watch, and generally limit my television to Civil War documentaries. I keep hoping McClellan will send in his reserves at Antietam or that Lee will finally listen to Longstreet on the 3rd day of Gettysburg, but find myself forlornly humming bits and pieces of “Ashokan Farewell” when the result is always the same.  Both of us enjoy Andy Griffith, and we’ve watched all 8 seasons of Andy so many times we find ourselves using quotes from the show in almost every conversation, and both understand exactly what the other means. “Thelma Lou, I believe you’re trying to change me!” one of us will say. “Citizen’s arrest! Citizen’s arrest!” replies the other. “Aunt Bee, call the man!” or “It’s me, it’s me, it’s Ernest T” or Andy’s signature “I’ll see ya” usually ends the conversation. Neither of us thought Eleanor Donohue a good match for Andy.

     I was a little hesitant about my first 2 or 3 post-lockdown trips to the grocery store, but I did feel better when they blocked off every entrance but one and a guy with a face mask and an ipad was keeping track of the number of customers that entered and left.  I never saw him stop anybody or say “hold on, sir, we’re at capacity until someone else leaves” but maybe I was there at just the right -or wrong - times.  I wore one of the masks from China and put sanitizer on my hands at every opportunity and ended up finding about half the items on my list but got 4 or 5 times the quantities I had written down.  I did not feel the temptation to buy cases of toilet paper because I had not heard anything about diarrhea being one of the primary symptoms of the virus, and was pretty sure TP wouldn’t freeze well, but I did get enough canned food and dog food to last us and the dog for a while. We don’t normally eat a lot of beans, but that was about to change for the next few weeks, anyway.  There were long empty spaces on shelves where the TP and Lysol and hand sanitizer used to be, but there seemed to be plenty of canned food, fresh vegetables, meat and poultry and ice cream, so we were good, and had all the basic food groups covered.  Betsy always wears  her full biohazard gear, carries extra sani-wipes in every pocket and pretends to sneeze every time someone gets within her imaginary 10 foot circle. She still goes with me once a week or so to continue her futile search for Lysol aerosol or sanitizing hand wipes. It may be awhile before we see those again.

     I had an extensive list of recipes from my Mom and Betsy’s Mom but stuck pretty much to soup and banana pudding for our daily meals since one of us decided they might be vegan.  She will eat chicken from time to time, as long as it’s been baked and finely shredded and I don’t remind her it’s in there. Most of the soup recipes I’ve made from Food Network turned out to be a one time event because it doesn’t seem to matter how you fix kale it’s still kale, but we have fixated on chicken and rice and taco soup as our two favorites, and are hoping we don’t get tired of them before all this is over.  Don’t let anybody fool you, though - sugar free pudding mix does not mean calorie free pudding, especially when you use most of a box of vanilla wafers and 3 or 4 bananas per bowl.  We had to stop that after a couple of weeks because we had already spent our summer vacation allowance and our stimulus money (plus a good bit extra) on things we really needed; clothes for the grandkids, crimson clover seed for the front yard, a new sax mouthpiece, several orders of wrinkle cream (my suggestion to buy it in bulk for a reduced price was not taken well), self-help books, wildflower seeds, repainting most of the interior of the house, recarpeting most of the interior of the house, replacing the upstairs A/C, around 250 new picture albums and some new fishing gear - all done online, of course - and at a pretty significant savings, I’m told; and couldn’t afford new clothes for us without another mortgage or another stimulus check. I’m not sure what we’ll do financially if the grandkids’ travel ball seasons suddenly start back up in July and we have to start traveling again. 

     I mentioned the new picture albums - Betsy has always said that one day she would gather up all her photographs she has saved in the 8 or 9 steamer trunks stored in my closet and organize them and place them in chronological order in photo albums.  The first 3 weeks of isolation she made great progress, and emptied 3 of the trunks and immediately filled them back up with the completed albums. I can’t wait for her to complete the other 5 or 6 trunks and fill those back up with albums too. The bad thing is they all have to go back in my closet because the upstairs room and the garage are full of furniture from her parents’ house.

     I’ve tried to imagine how our parents would have reacted to the current pandemic, and how they would have handled not going to work and being at home every day with the kids.  All day. I’m pretty sure the answer would not have been homeschool, since both of my parents worked at what they considered essential jobs; essential because there was no money coming in if they didn’t work; and they didn’t take off for much of anything.  If one of us was sick we got the old “go on to school and you’ll feel better later” speech.  At the most we got mercurochrome and a bandaid on a cut or scrape and Daddy might say “rub a little dirt on it and it will probably stop bleeding after a few minutes.”  Since Al Gore hadn’t invented the internet at that time, online lessons would not have been possible, and I don’t see my teachers doing party line calls on the phone to make sure we were keeping up.  My guess is we were going to school and were going to stay there until the final bell rang, and when we weren’t in school we were expected to play outside. Nobody was taking off to come pick one of us up during school unless there was a fire or part of an appendage was missing.  I heard there was rioting in our town in the late 60’s, but we never got a day out of school because of it, and in addition to riots we had smallpox and measles and flu making the rounds every year but schools were open regardless of how many kids were out. It was probably because we were so much tougher than today’s kids because we had to walk 5 miles uphill to school and 7 miles uphill back home.  In the snow.  In short sleeves.  Carrying our lunch. 

     My Dad and Betsy’s Dad were WWII veterans. My Dad spent a couple of years repairing B-29’s in Fairbanks Alaska and Betsy’s Dad was a POW survivor after being shot down over Germany.  Both experienced social isolation but of a much different type than what we experience now, and would have - I guarantee it - refused to participate in more social isolation of any type. I can hear their arguments now. You probably can too, so I don’t need to repeat any profanity other than both of them adding at the end of the discussion “and I ain’t wearing no damn mask.”

    One of my brothers feels the same about wearing masks, and says he’s read doctors expressing both pro mask and con mask opinions, and, after reading both sides, decided that if doctors couldn’t present a united front he wasn’t wearing one either. I  reminded him that 50% of all doctors graduated in the bottom half of their class, at present I couldn’t tell if they were all in the pro mask or con mask group, so statistically they must be spread evenly in both so his decision was more or less supported by medical opinion. Sort of. I usually wear a mask just because I like to make other people feel better if not necessarily safer.

     While none of us wants to be the cause of another getting infected with Covid, I’ve decided that the only thing more infectious than the disease itself is the fear of the disease these guys doing the news have manufactured.  That fear seems to be a major part of every “news” story now, and none of the networks every really goes back and says “well our original estimates of worldwide population reduction of 25% may have been a little overblown,” they just continue with more dire predictions that we are all going to die tomorrow unless we do what they tell us to do. Now the narrative is “well sure infections are slowing down but just wait for the spike.” After there is or isn’t a spike then there will be something else, then something else after that.  I’m not sure a whole lot of them know exactly what to tell us other than “be afraid, be very very afraid when we tell you to” and that just doesn’t work for most Americans. It seems their real concern is not for America or Americans but for the continual manipulation of their audience to greater and smaller degrees and to hell with the consequences.  

     Remember the Great Virus Scare of 1967? Me either, but evidently the Marburg virus had an 80% fatality rate and was a pretty big deal at the time, and apparently bats were once again the culprits there. How about the Bird Flu scare of 2013? The mortality rate was around 39% but I don’t think we closed the country. I remember a little about SARS in 2002, but didn’t know the mortality rate was 9.9%.  I don’t remember school closing for that one, either, but here we are with a virus that seems more contagious but less deadly but is more of a threat to modern civilization?

     Go back and look at the daily crises that were the lead stories over the last 4 weeks and how many actually happened and how many just went away on their own.  The same thing happens, albeit on a smaller scale, with the weather when every storm is predicted to be “devastating” and every tornado watch now makes even Toto and Dorothy cringe with fear and trepidation and want to hide in the bathroom. I don’t know about you but it’s a hard sell to convince me to wear a mask after being told to wear a mask by a bunch of guys that don’t wear masks while they’re telling you it’s a requirement to wear them because they said so even if masks don’t work. That’s why people are going back to work, that’s why more and more people are taking charge of their lives again and that’s why a lot of people aren’t waiting for an official “resume your lives” order before they decided enough was just too much. I’m pretty sure many of you can see this too...except for my dog.  She just sniffed and turned her head away.  She doesn’t understand why any of us would ever want to leave the house in the first place..


5/12/20

Reform Public Ed by Retiring Fed ED

     Happy Birthday to the United States Department of Education! Once a relatively innocuous part of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, President Carter decided he could create two bureaucracies where only one existed, and the USDOE began operating on its own as a Director level agency on May 4, 1980. The Department of Health and Human Services continued without the education part, and ostensibly serves our citizens in areas other than education.  
     The USDOE, affectionately and unfortunately known by those employed there as The ED has somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,400 employees as of 2020, and a budget of about $68 billion.  Their website says that “education is primarily a state and local responsibility” and they are funded primarily from tax monies collected from states and allocated by Congress.  Somewhere around 8.5% of every state’s educational funding comes from The ED, and about 90% of The ED’s funding comes from state and local taxpayers.  This year post-secondary grants, loans and work study programs, for example, cost $129.8 billion, Pell Grants account for $29 billion, the Federal Direct Student Loan Program about $23.67 billion, Title I Grants to states $14.4 billion, Special Education grants $12.52 billion and “other” $7.92 billion round out The ED budget. I suppose the $7.92 billion in “other” means salaries and travel and building leases and furniture and printing costs and miscellaneous stuff. What that means is that states send tax money to the Federal government to support The ED and The ED sends some of it back to states if they qualify and follow all the rules. The rest is, in simple terms, loaned to students that apply for loans ostensibly to pay for school costs.  After graduation for some or a change in life goals or direction, many loan recipients come to resent the loan they requested and believe the money should be labeled “gift” instead of “loan.” Like many other Federal programs, mismanagement, poor accounting practices and the fact that the loans are not underwritten by private sector sources lead to losses that could not be justified in any other than a Federal program. The student loan program as of this moment is owed by students over $1.5 trillion dollars.
     The mission of The ED is “to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.” They neglect to mention that the real motivation for its creation was political power and influence for the National Education Association as a reward for their support for President Carter during his campaign. Bureaucratic interpretation of policy by The ED has far too often had the effect of creating law when they simply interpret terms and policies. The ED has never had the power of creating laws; they simply assumed it and no one thought to challenge them.
     Constitutionality was evidently not a primary consideration or topic of discussion when The ED was created, and over the last 40 years it has managed to expand its scope and authority to exceed by far its financial re-contributions to state education departments.  While Federal education funding is less than 3% of the total Federal budget, The ED insists that education funding be allocated to ONLY those public school districts that follow federal guidelines. Even though the US Constitution grants no authority over education to the Federal government, the Federal government has in fact given itself that authority through ESEA and subsequent educational laws. The ED’s authority, that many consider unconstitutional in and of itself, far exceeds its limited financial contributions in whatever form, and that authority has grown exponentially, especially over the past 20 years. 
     The actual results of Federal intervention and ever increasing control over state and local education  have, like most Federal programs, been less than impressive. If you believe that standardized test scores are reflective of student learning, then The ED has been an expensive fiasco. Beginning with NCLB and the federal mandates for grade-by- grade accountability testing and ever increasing intrusive requirements from The ED required of state education departments, the only discernible result has been a test driven school culture that frustrates parents, drives teachers from the profession and teaches far too many kids to hate school. Unless you count a growing bureaucracy or the ability to use test scores to identify areas of poverty as indicative of mission fulfillment, The ED has been nothing more than just another gigantic Federal boondoggle.
     The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 adds on to the red tape by requiring states to submit their plans to the US DOE. Because these plans require Federal approval for funding (another top down effort), there is little or no incentive or autonomy allowed to design state, local and parent driven education reforms.  The ED has essentially become an enormous Federal “accountabully” whose sole purpose is to mandate those things politicians and bureaucrats believe would improve teaching and education without considering that most professional educators would never agree. Unless their true purpose is one other than the improvement of education, their insistence that a personal education for every student can only be achieved if everyone does everything exactly the same way at the same time and to the same degree flies directly in the face of common sense and a basic understanding of human action.
     Now, however, is a great time to correct one of the great examples of Federal overreach left over from the 1970’s and phase out what has been at best an ineffective institution that has few if any positive contributions or redeeming qualities to extoll its existence other than just another high dollar bureaucratic failure we really don’t have to afford any longer.
     It’s time for The ED, through Congressional action, to allow states:
  • To opt out of all federal programs under the auspices of ESEA and put those dollars to work within their own states as defined by state law;
  • To eliminate federal curriculum standards and testing mandates;
  • Remove ESEA state and local planning mandates;
  • Allow school choice within constitutional requirements;
  • Remove itself from the student loan program;
  • Allow states to assume control and operation of early childhood education programs;
  • Move civil rights enforcement from the USDOE to the Department of Justice.

       Onerous, expensive and completely unnecessary federal testing requirements for public schools created what was essentially the antithesis of effective educational policies for many years. Removing those mandates and allowing teachers the freedom to teach and parents the freedom to choose the curriculum taught would go a long way in restoring the effectiveness and the academic achievements of public schools. The vast majority of educational leaders I know would welcome competition for students between public and private schools if those testing, curricular and regulatory barriers were removed from public education..
     Phasing out The ED and returning to the states the constitutional responsibility and authority for educating their own students in the ways their citizens best determine would go a long way toward allowing true educational reform, not to mention the enormous reduction of paperwork for educational administrators at all levels. If you are looking for a culprit to blame for stagnant test scores, teachers leaving the profession and myriad other “failures of public education,” look no further than the bureaucratic Gordian knot created by The ED. The Federal government could launch a massive overhaul of the public education process by gradually removing itself from education altogether. 
     Dismantling The ED would be the single greatest contribution to improving our system of public education Secretary DeVos could hope to accomplish. While those employed by The ED may have wonderful intentions, the actual effects of their policies and controls have been at best misguided and at worst educational malpractice. It would seem the department’s minuscule positive contributions to public education have been far exceeded by The ED’s confidence that excellence can and should be mandated. 

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

More details on this topic may be found at: Policy Analysis No. 891, Cato Institute, Washington DC, May 4, 2020

2/2/20

The Teacher Lunch Table

    One of the great disappointments in my budding career as an educator was the teacher lunch table, but had nothing to do with food.  Teachers were expected to eat in the lunchroom and help supervise students even if they brought their lunch from home and I was surprised to see that each lunch period - there were 3 for grades 7-12 - had groups of teachers that sat together in the same spots almost every day.  The groups rarely changed and were always segregated by sex and not by race or teaching experience. I had always imagined that teachers had interesting philosophical discussions about education, politics, religion, history - you name it. I was sure the laughter and collegial debate that I thought I was observing among my high school teachers - we wouldn’t sit close enough to hear what they were actually saying because then they might overhear what we were talking about - but it just HAD to be interesting, philosophical, stimulating and intelligent intellectual discourse - would be a wonderful thing to be a part of after I became a member of the teaching fraternity.  My first few days in the lunchroom as a teacher were met with trepidation and a fear I wouldn’t be able to follow or participate in lofty conversations and discussions about whatever heady topics they chose to discuss. I was more than a little disconcerted when my first few days at the lunch table with the other male teachers - they had made a place for me at their table when I came out of the serving lines area with a tray - and the conversations were centered around the local in-season sport, gossip about who was dating whom and who was getting a divorce and who was running around with whom and, well, sex of all things. I thought maybe they were just lowering the level of conversation so the new guy wouldn’t be too intimidated and that the real discussions would begin after a few days, but no - the topics never really changed.  Sports, hunting, fishing and sex. The first three I had no real problem with but I was pretty sure teachers were not allowed to talk or even think about sex, and especially not at the lunch table. The only thing different about the teacher table and the student table was that students sometimes - quietly - discussed teachers, but teachers never, ever discussed students at lunch. I suppose spending all day 5 days a week with kids meant they really needed that 30 minutes during lunch to think about something besides kids.
After a few weeks I was at a loss - surely they were just waiting on me to get comfortable within the group or maybe, just maybe...that was IT! They wanted me to bring up a topic of interest that would stimulate a great discussion and prove to them that I was indeed worthy to be a part of their table talk and Teacher Conversation. What could I choose? Religion? No, I hadn’t really joined a local church yet and wasn’t quite sure I understood the difference in Methodist, Baptist, Church of Christ and Primitive Baptist and didn’t really want to offend anybody by bringing up a topic that had such personal implications. Politics? There was a potential for danger there, but most of the conversations I had heard seemed to lean toward a Democratic viewpoint primarily because of that party’s traditional support of FFA, agriculture and farmers in general, and this was, above all, a rural farming community.  Maybe that was it - but how could I specifically pick a political conversational strand that would interest and excite such a varied group of professionals, some with almost as much teaching experience as God? Somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered a college professor saying something about “a man of 20 who is not a communist has no heart, but a man of 35 who is a communist has no brain”. The more I thought about it the better that seemed for an opening gambit for my initial entrance into what was bound to be a stimulating discussion that might even last for weeks! I could hit an intellectual home run - so to speak - on my very first conversation starter. I really did my homework and, in the days before Google and Apple and before Al Gore invented the internet, went to the school library and looked up “communism” and took copious notes. I wrote down quotes from Marx and Lenin and discovered the original quote was by William Casey and read “I pass the test that says the man at 20 that is not a socialist has no heart; the man at 40 that is a socialist has no brain”. I spent several hours poring over the school library’s Encyclopedia Britannica and prepared myself in ways that should I have exerted such energy and zeal for studying in college might have led to a GPA much higher than the 2.57 I recorded with as little academic focus and effort as possible.  I did know where the library at Ole Miss was and had been there on several occasions, but it was not a place I had spent an enormous amount of time. After several hours of study and looking up related topics - communism, Vietnam, the domino theory, socialism, the OSS and the CIA, I was ready. All I had to do now was wait for just the right conversational opening and I was headed for the teacher lunch table hall of fame.
  The anticipated moment came the very next day.  I hurried across the campus to the lunchroom - built conveniently between the high school and the elementary school and just in front of the gym used by both - and quickly went through the line so I could be one of the first at the table.  I would, of course, wait for the entire male crew to gather before trying to find just the right moment to introduce my discussion point. They wandered in singly, gathered their trays and received servings of food from the lunchroom ladies and spoke amiably to each of them - it never paid to tick off the ladies that made your lunch every day - and wandered to the men’s teacher table where I was impatiently waiting in as outwardly nonchalant manner as possible.  As the last one arrived it was all I could do to wait for just the right moment. The conversation began with the prospects of the Bulldogs against the Sulligent Blue Devils in Friday night’s contest and, after a few remarks about the general health and attitude of the team by the Head Coach someone asked him if he thought there would be a big crowd at the stadium. “I sure hope so” Coach said. “Football has always been a big social event in town and we sure could use a good gate early in the season in case we hit a small crowd or two later in the season or at one of our out of town games”.  This was it! He said “social”. I could just squeeze social and get socialism without it being too much of a stretch and I had to take a chance - the rewards and the possibilities were just too good to ignore and let the moment slip by and not take advantage of the opening - however small - to introduce my topic. Fate seemed to agree with my decision because there was at just that moment a slight pause in the conversation and I took a deep breath and mentioned casually “Funny you should mention social - I was reading one of my philosophy books from college last night and came across a great quote from William Casey - you know, the guy that was one of the heads of the OSS in WW II...”  There was no response, but I forged ahead. They were just waiting, I was sure, to see how I presented this. They weren’t going to just hand it to me. “OK” I thought and took another deep breath. “I can handle this. Just push ahead and they’ll pick it up and the discussion will begin.” “He said something to the effect of ‘a man of 20 that is not a socialist has no heart…..”. I paused to see if there was a glimmer of familiarity or interest in any of their eyes. I looked around the table. Not only was there no glimmer, there was more interest in the lunchroom lady gravy on the instant mashed potatoes than in what I had said, but, in for a penny in for a pound so I continued “and a man of 40 that is a socialist has no brain”.  Silence. No flicker of recognition in any eye at the table. No look that indicated that any of them was about to debate or even comment on what I had said. Coach cleared his throat and my sunken hopes rose for just a second. Maybe, just maybe… “I wonder what Millport has this year. They finished the season last year pretty strong and almost beat us for the county championship. They got any real athletes we need to watch out for?” 
  I was crushed and, hiding my disappointment turned my attention to the consistency of the brown gravy on those mashed potatoes on my plate.  I finished lunch without really contributing anything to the NFL or college game comments, the observation that one of the math teachers was dating a coach from New Hope, that ole’ Steve and his wife were separated and did Mrs. G look like she might be pregnant again?  It took me several days before I realized that my fears were true. I could find no other solution. There were no philosophical debates or witty repartee or Mensa level discussions at the teacher table. The topics were the same as those at the student table with the occasional damn or hell allowed - softly, of course - because we were, after all, adults, but my illusions were completely shattered.  After moping around for a few days, privately disappointed beyond belief I did manage to find a bright side - at least I wouldn’t have to spend afternoons in the library looking up stuff I didn’t know anything about so I wouldn’t be embarrassed or completely excluded from conversations at the teacher lunch table. I had, after all, been going to football games since junior high and was, by guy standards, considered as something of an authority because of longevity in terms of watching sports if not actual participation, had played little league baseball and met male qualifications for “expert” status though that, and darn sure knew which female teachers were attractive enough to comment on and which were out of bounds - there WAS a bright side here!  “Damn” I thought, “being one of the guys may not be so bad after all”. I did wonder if maybe the female teachers at the other table talked about….oh no. I wasn’t falling for that again. Even if they had book discussions on Plato’s “Republic” I wasn’t about to move to their table. There were some things a guy - especially a new guy - just couldn’t risk. I did wonder just how you asked one of the women teachers if she was pregnant. If the answer were “no” then you had just embarrassed her by calling her fat - not the positive impression I really wanted to make. Men were in the minority in the teaching profession and it would not pay to alienate all teaching females by calling one of their number noticeably pudgy. I decided it best just to wait for the announcement if pregnancy were indeed the cause,  otherwise the best course of action seemed silence. I could do that. Discretion was not always my strong suit, but in this case I managed, but there was a fleeting moment of regret at the scintillating conversations I wouldn’t be having with the guys, but a small inner sigh of relief that I wouldn’t be cramming every night for conversations at the teacher lunch table. In this case, I suppose ignorance could indeed be equated to bliss.