Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Is There Anybody Alive Out There?

"Something is happening here, but you don't know what it is. Do you, Mr. Jones?"- Bob Dylan, "Ballad of a Thin Man"

 Far be it for me to claim any expertise regarding the topic of UFOs and intelligent extraterrestrial life, because I'm a newcomer to this particular party, but when astronauts Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin (Apollo 11, second person to walk on the moon), Dr. Edgar Mitchell (Apollo 14, sixth moonwalker), and Gordon Cooper (Gemini 5 pilot) have all acknowledged that at least some Earthlings have been in touch with our cosmic neighbors, and NASA has been covering up the evidence for over half a century, it might be time to pay closer attention. (To verify this, just go to YouTube and type their names and "aliens" in the search box.)

 Testimony from these three more-than-credible sources vindicates author Erich Von Daniken (Chariots of the Gods, Gods from Outer Space) and his spiritual disciples such as Graham Hancock (Fingerprints of the Gods, Underworld), as well as all those Ancient Aliens enthusiasts interviewed on the History Channel. It is also a cautionary rebuke to all the cocksure naysayers who insist that alien visitation in this, or any other time, is beyond the realm of possibility.

Truth be told, the authors and astronauts are late to this party, too, because the alien visitation evidence they cite dates back thousands, and maybe millions of years. This field of study is far too vast and complex to go into with too much detail, but in addition to hieroglyphs that depict spacecraft and what appear to be ancient astronauts, as well as the architectural sophistication and mathematical precision of the Great Pyramid and other megaliths around the globe, it might help to explain, among other things, such Biblical mysteries as Eve springing from Adam's rib (cloning), the upright walking snake and the Nephilim in Genesis, Sodom and Gomorrah (nuclear explosion), Ezekial's vision (a wheel in the air) and Joshua's razing Jericho's walls with trumpet blasts, as well as several of the seemingly impossible Greek myths.

Apply whatever theories you want to all of the above phenomena, but one undeniable aspect about any research into this topic is its educational value. Math and science have never been my forte nor my primary interests, but reading about "ancient knowledge" and "sacred geometry" has lit a fire, albeit a late one. A small sampling follows:

The Giza Pyramids were constructed according to the mathematical principles of pi, the Fibonacci Sequence, and the Golden Ratio, principles that weren't discovered until thousands of years later, and that just scratches the surface of the fascinating mathematical connections the Great Pyramid has to our universe. The Fibonacci Sequence and its concomitant Golden Ratio, or Golden Number, are the universal patters of creation -- from pine cones, to sunflowers, to hurricanes, (the list goes on and on) and are what comprise the universal aesthetic standard.

Many numbers -- foremost among them: 3, 4, 9, 12, 20, 40, 72, and 144 -- contain secrets to the creation and destiny of mankind. They are encoded in great literature from the Bible, to Greek mythology, including Homer's epics, Shakespeare's (I say Francis Bacon), and Milton's works and beyond. De-coding those masterpieces is a task for people smarter than I, such as Michael Drosnin (The Bible Code, a highly recommended read) and Dan Brown (The DaVinci Code, among other bestsellers). However, inspired by Hancock and Fingerprints... ,I have been trying to "de-code" Homer's Odyssey. Call it a Quixotic quest if you will, but it is intriguing, albeit fruitless.

Jonathan Swift predicted the discovery of Mars' two moons (Deimos and Phobos) and wrote about them in his Gulliver's Travels over one hundred years before they were discovered. He allegedly did it using the sacred knowledge he learned as a member of a secret society.

Astrology, or the precession of the zodiac in relation to the Earth's wobble on its axis, is far more complicated and influential than creating horoscopes and determining personality types. The sun is by no means the only star that holds the secrets to our past, present, and future.

We are indeed now in the Aquarian Age, but we are also in the latest version of what the ancient Greeks called an Iron, or Dark Age. Dispute this all you want, but then consider all the wars, heinous crimes, and hideous violence that man has perpetrated on man since the dawn of present civilization, and you might want to re-think the assessment.

E-mailing, Skyping, and wireless communication are all forerunners to a much more enlightened Age to come, an Age when humans will be able to communicate telepathically, like a flock of birds in flight.

If the ancient knowledge can be trusted, Saturn has a much larger influence on us than most of us might ever think, or want.

If ancient knowledge can be trusted, the aliens that Aldrin, Cooper, and Mitchell have attested to and legions more claim to have seen or been abducted by, probably came from Arcturus, or the Pleiades star systems.

The Earth is undergirded with powerful electromagnetic fields, called "ley lines." Not only do many of the ancient megaliths, from Giza to Angor Wat, to Easter Island and several points between, align along a 1,500 kilometer wide strip around the globe, but the ley lines also correspond with the crystalline grid that is reputed to engulf our atmosphere. For all of you who have had the eerie feeling that there is an extra dimension out there -- an aura, if you will (extra sensory perception, mental telepathy, intuition)-- some evidence suggests you are correct.

Atoms are virtually empty and substance-less. It is thought and conception that gives them - and us (including our genetic codes) -- life. Sound waves (pitch and frequency) can create elaborate and complex geometric shapes, many of which are depicted in art, both ancient and modern. Wave frequency is also what creates solid matter from empty atoms. Sound waves can also be highly destructive. See Joshua and Jericho above. 

We experience only two basic emotions, love and fear. Those emotions affect the electromagnetic fields within our bodies and, as you would predict, the healthiest reactions emanate from love.

Of course, there is much, much more, a graduate school's worth of studying more, but all of this knowledge invariably leads to the same conclusion (Please note that I adhere to no institutionalized religion, nor have I since early adolescence.), to wit: God is within us, and His/Her name is Love. That is what Jesus taught. John Lennon was correct when he sang, "Love is the answer." It sounds as smarmy and hokey as it can get, but love just might be the key to everlasting life, if you're in for that sort of thing. Energy, including the electromagnetic energy within us, cannot be destroyed, and our souls are energy. What we do with that powerful force in a world where fear and violence are overly abundant could be the greatest challenge that each and every one of us face over the course of our lifetimes.

Nobody said it was going to be easy.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Recipes from Christina Bedetta, Nutritionist and Superb Cook

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Educational Not-So-Merry Go-Round

Here we go again. The purveyors of public education policy, hard on the heels of the “New Standards,” and the concomitant “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top” initiatives, have ushered in yet another round of school “reform,” and its current name is “Common Core.”

These soi disant educational “gurus,” (Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his private sector cohorts) are careful not to call it what it essentially is -- a “back to the basics” emphasis on fundamental skills and traditional knowledge in the core subject areas English, math, science, and social studies. For those not old enough to remember, the catch phrase “back to the basics” recalls the reform movement our government instituted shortly after the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite and, with it, a mythological space race and a manufactured educational crisis.

Will it go ‘round in circles? You bet it will, especially in the realm of public education, where the ostensibly noble objective of “reform” is actually a crusade to keep educators in perpetual and dizzying cycles of pedagogical practices and policies. In public education, the only constant is change, and instability does not breed success. It is one method that Corporate America uses to discredit and dismantle public schools (and their real targets – teacher unions) while producing and promoting private and charter schools.

In the 50-plus years since Sputnik, educational theorists have foisted upon the public such fallacious “reforms” as the “Whole Language” approach, which downplayed the emphasis on fundamentals such as lexical decoding, spelling and proper grammatical usage in favor of immersion into the rhetorical aspects of written communication, as well as the “New Math,” wherein the final answer was not as important as the process used to arrive at it, regardless of the accuracy. It was the journey and not the destination that mattered.

Educational policy has completed another revolution in its perpetual orbit. Pearson Education, a textbook and educational materials publisher that promotes and inculcates the Common Core, also creates beginning, mid-year, and end-of-year assessments. Among the skills that 10th grade students are expected to know include, among other arcana: the meaning of the suffix (-id) – of or pertaining to -- to determine the definition of a word like “squalid” (foul, repulsive, neglected, filthy, pertaining to squalor), the proper use of relative pronouns, the difference between a regular and irregular verb, and analogous word pair groupings. None of the above is tantamount to rocket science, and some of it is essential knowledge, but it is light years away from the Whole Language approach, which “reform”-minded theorists championed and instituted for years. It also why jaded educators have always referred to the latest “reforms,” whatever they might be at the time, as “old wine, new bottles.”

Further evidence is found in the latest teaching strategies and methodologies that the Common Core gurus encourage and district administrators expect lockstep conformity to. One is called the “Flipped Classroom.” As little as 5 years ago, school administrators were encouraging teachers to eschew the lecture. The chalk-and-talk was passé. “No longer be the sage on the stage, but the guide on the side” was the prevailing credo to encourage heuristic learning. The flipped classroom, however, entails students going home and watching lectures on video. Surely they’ll pay more attention while enjoying the comforts of home, as soon as they finish fulfilling their social media rituals, playing their video games, or watching television.

The Common Core State Standards, although expecting students to be able to correctly identify tone, methods of indirect characterization, irony, and figurative language, among other literacy skills, suggests a 50/50 instructional balance of fiction and non-fictional text at the elementary level, but a 70/30 emphasis on non-fiction for the middle and high school levels. Herein they are marginalizing a tried-and true educational tradition extant since the Sumerians and cuneiform while expecting students to be sophisticated interpreters of literature by the 9th grade.

Those at the top of the educational “reform” movement cherry pick research as justification for their policies. Thus, they ignore the evidence that indicates the best way to turn reluctant learners into enthusiastic learners is by allowing them to select their reading material. Instead, they insist that teachers force-feed students the literary canon, a surefire method to create reluctant readers, as research indicates.

Reformers ignore the evidence that teachers and students need more, not less, time teaching and learning, but justify the essentially useless “advisory” period by citing research that claims students have a better chance of succeeding if they get to know at least one adult in the school well. That may be true, but any teacher will tell you the best way for students and teachers to become acquainted is via the teaching and learning process, in the classroom, not through videos watched from home.

Instruction is more effective in homogeneously grouped classrooms, where proximal teaching – tailoring instruction according to student knowledge and ability levels – can occur. Instead, districts, with wholehearted endorsement from Common Core, insist on heterogeneous classrooms wherein teachers are asked to “differentiate” their instruction, according to the various student abilities – and disabilities. This is not only a nefarious recipe for teacher burnout and classroom chaos for even the most experienced and skilled teachers, but it also deprives all students of the most effective learning environments. School administrators claim teachers have a moral obligation to differentiate their instruction, but they fail to implement policies that enable it to be done effectively. Relative moralism rears its hypocritical head again.

Government intrusion into the public school classroom is both insidious and incessant, and it has been for over a half a century now. Now Big Business, in pursuit of the millions to be made in education-based computer programs and products as well as the dismantling of teacher unions, is involved. Unfortunately, students become pawns in the political game, a game that will end only when public schools become obsolete.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Prophecies from Bradbury and Orwell

When it comes to prophets, you can have Nostradamus and his esoteric metaphors. I’ll take George Orwell and Ray Bradbury, but I’ll take them with a heavy dose of foreboding.

Orwell’s 1984, published in 1950, and Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953, both depict futuristic societies in the oppressive grips of tyrannical governments. These governments nefariously employ technology and propaganda to exercise total dominance of its citizens. Both novels are recondite and prophetic, especially given the current geo-political climate.

Let’s consider two of Orwell’s most chilling dicta as stated in 1984, to wit: War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Strip away all the faulty rationale, the cherry-picked intelligence, the erroneous assumptions, and the bold-faced lies that were associated with our ill-conceived war with Iraq, and the political hawks on Capitol Hill and in the Pentagon still claim that we should not withdraw all of our troops from either Iraq or Afghanistan because it would weaken our national security. Meanwhile, they agitate for armed intervention in both Iran and Syria, or wherever else an opportunity to flex Uncle Sam's muscle may arise.

“War is peace.” The Orwellian premise is that war accomplishes three essential goals in keeping a society in total control. It puts and keeps its citizens at work; it maintains and assures production and technological developments from the military/industrial corporations and, perhaps more importantly, combined with the expert use of propaganda, keeps its citizens focused on an external enemy while an internal oppressor tightens its grip.

War is a constant motif in Fahrenheit 451 as well. Despite it’s best efforts to maintain, through technology, propaganda, and the banning of books, a society of obliviously busy and artificially gleeful citizens, the government in Bradbury’s novel eventually goes to war with another nation. War is peace. When is the United States not at war? Our troops are still dying in Afghanistan, 13 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Freedom is slavery. How can that be possible? A paradox is an apparently contradictory statement that can nevertheless be true. Consider former National Security Agency employee and current fugitive Edward Snowden's plight after he revealed that the NSA has been recording and archiving millions of U.S. citizens' private phone calls. Snowden's freedom is very much in jeopardy, whether he becomes a permanent Russian resident or not. Former President George W. Bush claimed he never broke any of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act laws when he authorized the wiretapping of phone calls made from this country to overseas destinations. We’ve since learned that those phone taps were done without the prerequisite warrants, and we’ve also learned that three U.S. phone companies have been supplying intelligence agencies with information about millions of phone calls made within the United States. Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez Jr. refused to cooperate with any congressional investigations into the legality of the National Security Agency’s activities, and Central Intelligence Agency director, General Michael V. Hayden, insisted that all the squabble over domestic surveillance is nothing but a “political football” and should therefore cease.

As the 9/11 terrorist attacks fade in our collective memories, the objections to NSA intrusions are growing, but many still believe that our government is violating our privacy to protect our lives and our freedom and approve of it. Read between the lines, and our government is saying, “Freedom is slavery.” At this juncture, “slavery” is hyperbole. Still, the ghost of Patrick Henry must be apoplectic while we cede some of our basic freedoms in the interest of safety. And let’s beware of that slippery slope; shall we?

Orwell’s Big Brother, whose ubiquitous video surveillance assures no citizen a sliver of privacy, is not a benevolent overseer. The misleading apparition is classic Orwellian doublespeak. In other words, Orwell’s Ministry of Truth produces nothing but lies (sound familiar?); the Ministry of Peace is primarily concerned with war, and the Ministry of Love with re-education, read: torture. But the United States does not torture its enemies, or so we are told.

Fahrenheit 451 also features constant video surveillance of its citizens while predicting, a half-century before their actualization, television reality shows in a scene where Bradbury depicts the nationally televised pursuit of protagonist/fugitive Guy Montag. Bradbury also introduces his readers to interactive television, while his seashell earplugs anticipate the MP3 players and Ipods that are so popular today.

Both Bradbury and Orwell portray societies with increasingly illiterate citizens who are too overwhelmed with work (ring a bell?) to contemplate their government’s insidious encroachment on their freedoms and too inundated with propaganda to object to it.

The premise behind the censorship that leads to the book banning in Fahrenheit 451 is a diverse society that’s hypersensitive to political correctness. I don’t know about you, but that sounds eerily familiar to me.

The next time you drive on Route 95 or log on to the Internet, you’ll witness the Bradbury vision of a world obsessed with speed.

When certain media watchdogs disclosed that our government has been destroying historical archives and classifying secrets at an alarmingly record rate, the news was evocative of Orwell’s society where history, including records of its citizens, is incessantly and systematically either altered or destroyed.

Speaking of history, we could very well be at a crossroads. Naysayers might look at alarmists and cite two other literary characters, Chicken Little and the Boy Who Cried Wolf, but it would behoove this nation’s citizens to know Orwell’s motivation for writing 1984.

He wrote it to warn us. Take it from him, and Bradbury, not me.

The Deer Wars

Recent news of a deer attacking a 75-year old Ohio woman in her home and inflicting enough damage to hospitalize her was alarming, what with tensions between deer and humans reaching a boiling point on Block Island, where the illegal practice of deer baiting is now being tolerated. In several Rhode Island communities, the deer "wars" have been going on for years.

To stave off a similar attack locally, I infiltrated enemy ranks via a state-of-the-art cell phone that converts high frequency animal communications into the English language and consequently back into bovine scatological refuse. Punching in the appropriate numbers, which also afforded me a tiny screen image of a deer war council in session, I received the following intelligence: Gathered in a small clearing under soft moonlight that reflected a ghostly glow off a forest of antlers, a half dozen or so deer were huddled in what was obviously a passionate discussion. A few intermittently stomped at the fern and skunk cabbage underfoot and others occasionally reared back on their hind feet as if fending off a pack of bloodhounds. Inaudible grunts punctuated indecipherable screeches, but calmer utterances were discernible.

 “We’ve reached a vital time in our history. Our very existence is at stake. It’s either punish or perish,” the largest buck exhorted. “The townsfolk are blaming us for bio-terrorism, using our ticks to breed and spread Lyme Disease, accusing us of suicide bombing on-rushing automobiles and raiding the vegetable gardens on which their very sustenance depends. They have worked up a hatred for us, and now they have expanded their hunting grounds to encroach on what little land we have left. It won’t be long before they want to eradicate us all.”

“I don’t get it,” a comrade said. “They used to cherish and adore us. On rare occasions when we were seen, they would stop and admire us, take pictures and make such a fuss that you’d think we were Tom and Gisele en-route to Foxboro.”

“That was when this was the land of hops and barley. Now it is the land of milk and honey. There was a real estate boon, and this became the Promised Land.” 

“True, but the dogs on Main Street howl…”

“No matter, Boss. I know they understand, but when man gets fixated on an ideal, nothing can change his mind. You could contaminate his drinking water, and he’d still want to stay. Now we’re the scourge Rhode Islanders want to eliminate. War is imminent.”

“Here, here,” cried out a younger buck. “I can’t even forage in an apple orchard without staring down the business end of a double-barrel. I’m for war. Let’s attack, now.” 

“Who are you kidding, Rambo? You can’t even lick pond scum,” retorted a peer. “You turn white tail and run from horseflies as if they were the Vermin Luftwaffe.”

“They’re disease infested. Besides, we were here first. This is about principle and righteousness.” 

“What’s being first got to do with it? If being first mattered, the amphibians that crawled out of the sea would rule. The frog would finally become prince, and Viracocha would remain the Lizard King. Mr. Mojo Risin’ didn’t just get into town an hour ago, you know. You’ve either been skipping Owl’s history lessons or raiding the happy mallard’s cannabis crop again.”

“Enough bickering gentle…err, young bucks,” their leader said. “Let’s stop fighting among ourselves and stay focused on the real enemy. I say we follow that Ohio doe’s lead and attack them in their homes before they have time to take up arms and massacre us all.”

“That’s risky,” a previously silent doe observed. “It might just stir up more resentment against us. Then we’d be facing endless battalions of orange-clad deer slayer wannabes. We’d never get any peace.”

“All the more reason to attack. Would you rather fight them there or here?"

“What’s wrong with the home-field advantage? We know the terrain. We can survive off the land, use other animals as scouts and spies, and wage guerilla warfare that they cannot win. They may win some battles, but ultimately we’ll win the war. They cannot kill us all. We’ll get reinforcements to swim across the bay or traverse the bridges at night. Time is on our side. Let’s be patient, and let them come to us.”

“They’ll come all right, and they’ll be toting thirty ought sixes.”

A silence ensued, as if they all contemplated the grisly image of a punctured carcass, possibly his or her own, lying in a pool of blood, waiting to be devoured by either man or beast.

“You can call me Rambo, or call me crazy, but just don’t call me venison,” the gung-ho young buck suddenly exclaimed. “I’m for starting warfare right here and now.” And with that, he bolted from the congregation. Envisioning a sneak attack on a cigar puffing, bathrobe clad resident who would insouciantly answer the doorbell in expectation of a friendly neighbor or relative, he hurdled a fallen oak and dashed through some bracken toward the nearest road. A moment later, the sound of screeching automobile tires was followed by a dull thud and the crackle of breaking metal and glass. 

“Fools rush in…” muttered a comrade before bowing his head mournfully. The others followed suit. 

In the background, a man’s voice could be heard screaming about his bleeping brand new paint job and his bleeping insurance rates, and the fact that he was going to buy a shotgun and kill all the bleeping deer in the state by his own bleeping self.

“Why, oh why, oh why does it have to come to this?” the distressed doe called out.

 “Ours is not to question why…”

 “Can it,” the doe retorted. “I’m going to deal with this in my own way. I say make love, not war. Anybody with me?”

She had no shortage of volunteers.

This intelligence report concludes that, while war is temporarily averted, a future overpopulation crisis looms, leading one to wonder if there is nothing to fear but the deer itself.

Alas, only time will tell.

The Greatest Of All Time; There's One In Every Crowd

One would hope that the recent Denver Broncos’ dispatching of the New England Patriots on their way to Super Bowl XLVIII will put an end to the Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning debates that the sports media have been engaging in ad infinitum and ad nauseum.

Don’t bet on it. At stake for one of the two quarterbacks, at least in the minds of the fanatically delusional, is the august title of Greatest Of All Time (GOAT). If the Seattle Seahawks defeat the Broncos, New England’s Manning detractors and Brady hagiographers will be back out in full force. 

Comparing any two athletes from different eras and coming up with a so-called GOAT is an egocentric exercise spawned from partisan passions and selective and distorted memories, especially regarding football, the ultimate team sport.

The current sports meme of conflating the GOAT with the number of championships his team has won is a regrettable byproduct of the old Bill Russell vs. Wilt Chamberlain debates. The argument does, however, have some legitimacy regarding basketball. The players play both offense and defense. In a five-on-five matchup, one player can have a significantly greater influence on the outcome of a game than in an 11-on-11, football contest. Nevertheless, the following is an attempt at some objective perspective on the topic.

 First, full disclosure is in order. I am a Patriots fan. Also, statistics will be neither consulted nor included. All conclusions are based on empirical evidence only.

As with any sport, it is important to consider eras relative to player production. Brady and Manning are fortunate to play at a time when the NFL has placed a premium on offensive production. Had Dan Marino, to name just one prolific passer from yesteryear, played in this era, he would probably still hold many of the passing records that Brady, Manning, and Drew Brees either hold or have directly in their crosshairs.

Both Manning and Brady are great leaders, field generals whose charges are in lockstep with their every command. Both have IBM brains and excel at pre-snap reads and post-snap decisions. But while Brady frequently consults that encyclopedia of a playbook wrapped around his wrist, Manning seems to call every play at the line of scrimmage. He is his own offensive coordinator, regardless of any titles somebody else in the Broncos’ – or the Colts’ previously -- organization might hold. 

Manning played indoors for a significant portion of his career and has had tremendous talent around him. Brady had one year with Randy Moss and Wes Welker but didn’t win a Super Bowl. Brady had two assets Manning never had – Bill Belichick, one of the top 5-7 coaches ever, and Adam Vinatieri, the greatest clutch kicker ever.

Both are accurate passers, and here I’d give both Manning and Aaron Rodgers an edge. It’s impossible to rank them among the all-time great pure pocket passers, but the obvious, such as Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, Ken Anderson, Phil Simms, Ken Stabler, Kurt Warner, Bert Jones, and a host of others merit consideration. My frame of reference dates from the twilight of Johnny Unitas’ and Bart Starr’s illustrious careers, an era that would include the great Sonny Jurgensen. My apologies go to them as well as Otto Graham, Sammy Baugh and Sid Luckman. Anybody who wants to bestow the GOAT title on any of the above would get little argument from me.

History tells us that nobody was cooler under pressure than Montana and Starr. That has to count for something, and then we’d have to include Eli Manning in the discussion.

My preference is for the dual-threat quarterbacks, those who can turn chicken excrement into chicken salad with remarkable consistency and efficiency, yet who can/could pick defenses apart from the pocket. The current young guns, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, and Andrew Luck fit this mold, as does Rodgers. Their inclusion in this discussion will have to be revisited in a decade or so. Their forbears include Brett Favre, Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach, Warren Moon, Steve Young, and John Elway.

Favre threw too many interceptions in crucial spots; Bradshaw’s field leadership and passing prowess were often questioned, and Moon played on no championship teams. Early in Staubach’s career, Tom Landry alternated his starting position with Craig Morton.

Elway’s numbers don’t stand out, but he played for the conservative Dan Reeves, a disciple of the “three yards and a cloud of dust” offensive philosophy. When the Broncos fell behind in the 4th Quarter, Reeves would take the reins off Elway and watch the victories tally up. Elway was the closest thing to a one-man team I have ever seen. Those Broncos teams he took to the Super Bowls to play the Giants, Redskins, and 49ers were all vastly overmatched. When he got a running game and a defense in the twilight of his career, he led his team to two championships, and he won a Super Bowl MVP. I would pick Elway slightly ahead of Young as my GOAT, with apologies to Unitas and a prediction that Rodgers will eventually be a challenger.

Maybe I’ve seen too much of Brady’s flaws, his statuesque playing style and his underwhelming post-season performances since 2004. He might make my top 10, with the emphasis on might. I have several friends who get angry with me regarding this, and one who gets so angry he has excluded this debate as a conversational topic. It’s just as well. It’s a frivolous discussion anyway.

Monday, December 9, 2013

SLO Going

Maybe Education Commissioner Deborah Gist was justified in sounding triumphant when she reacted to the Rhode Island Kids Count news that the graduation rates of students in the state’s poorest cities – Central Falls, Pawtucket, Providence, and Woonsocket – have increased 10% since 2007. After all, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education, if the nation’s 2011 dropouts had earned a diploma, they, over the course of their lifetimes, would have saved taxpayers $154 billion. This is because dropouts are more likely to be unemployed, receive welfare benefits, abuse substances, commit crimes and land in prison. Dropouts also generally earn less money than students who earn diplomas; therefore, they generate less tax revenue.

 Reacting to the latest graduation rates, Gist told the Providence Journal’s Lynn Arditi (11/26/13), “We can no longer support a system in which students graduate but are not ready for success in college and careers.” Therein, if Gist were true to her words, she’d make immediate and wholesale changes to many of the educational policies she proudly champions under the misnomer of “reform,” including but not limited to the Rhode Island Model Evaluation System for teachers.

High graduation rates may be desirable, but they are misleading, especially when it comes to student achievement and college and career readiness. Implicit in the imposition of high standards is the realistic expectation that fewer people are going to reach them, thus the U.S. Marine Corps motto: “The Few, The Proud,” and the fact that out of the thousands of players in Major League Baseball history, only 208 have made the Hall of Fame. Not just any musician gets to perform at Carnegie Hall.

Education is no different, even at the high school level, which is why the graduation rates are misleading vis-a-vis student achievement. It also explains why a group of Providence students, calling themselves Young Voices, surveyed 635 high school students and found, according to Arditi’s article, that discipline was a “major issue negatively impacting school culture.”

How can the apparent incongruity of increased graduation rates, pervasive behavioral problems, and continued student underachievement co-exist? Let me enumerate the ways.

1. Summer School: To boost graduation rates, many high schools offer students who fail one or more classes -- for fees ranging anywhere from $200-300 -- six weeks of summer school and consider it adequate restitution for 36 weeks of the regular curriculum. Although the summer school curricula are not as simplified as they once were (English students in at least one district now must write a thesis essay.), many students continue to consider the considerably less rigorous 30 days of summer learning much more desirable than the 180 mandatory days from September to June. Consequently, when those chronically absent and often tardy summer school bound students do attend classes, they have nothing to lose from disrupting and sabotaging lessons. In fact, many derive great pleasure in doing just that. The diplomas they eventually earn in no way attest to their college and career readiness, or lack thereof.

 2. Credit Retrieval Program: This program allows students who failed courses to take on-line, self-taught, and watered down courses to make up those they failed. It is a disincentive to work hard, or even moderately, in the classroom.

3. Home Tutoring: Neither of the two aforementioned bail-out options may be as tempting as home tutoring, which requires a student to make up a failed class after only 15 hours of one-on-one tutoring with a teacher. It is yet another disincentive to work in the classroom.

4. The Rhode Island Model teacher evaluation system and, most notably, the Student Learning Objectives: Maybe the most egregious, at least for teachers, manner in which RIDE and Gist have undermined teacher efforts and classroom effectiveness is by implementing and requiring the Student Learning Objectives (SLOs). Every Rhode Island public school teacher must explicitly state SLOs on his or her evaluation form at the beginning of each school year and must strive to meet them before that year is finished. According to RIDE and district administrators, the SLOs must be rigorous and indicate adequate challenges for teachers and students alike. They are designed to motivate teachers to work hard and effectively. However, only teachers are held accountable if students don’t do their part, and the vast majority of students could not care less if their teachers attain their SLOs. Therefore, if a teacher does not reach his or her SLOs because some students refuse to heed instruction, take notes, read, study, attend extra-help sessions, make up work, quizzes, tests, and other assessments, the teacher, not the students, gets penalized with a less impressive evaluation than he or she would if students had done their part. As a result, more and more teachers are going to great lengths to meet their SLOs and stretching the ethical parameters in the process. That includes doing the students’ work for them, discounting failed quizzes and tests, reducing the rigor of assignments, and misrepresenting data on the final evaluation forms, among other unprofessional but, given that jobs are potentially at stake in Gist’s draconian system, understandable actions.

Student apathy, fueled in large part by the phenomenon known as social promotion, was a significant problem before Gist instituted the SLOs, and it has only become worse since. If all the above were not enough to undermine teacher effectiveness and provide disincentives for students, district administrators, to help inculcate the recent, nation-wide “Response to Intervention” (RtI) education initiative, are now encouraging teachers to refrain from giving zeroes for student work that is not submitted. The justification for this is to raise the graduation rates, of course.

Higher graduation rates might be good news for students and society as a whole, but if policy makers are really interested in school reform, they must identify the behaviors and practices that truly will prepare students for colleges and careers.

Promoting apathy and failing to hold students accountable for both their actions and inactions has a countervailing effect, and Deborah Gist, of all people, should know this.