The headline of this article from the Orlando Sentinel sounds positive: Poor students faring better in Orlando than most cities.
Then you begin to wonder, what does that mean, faring better? Are poor students in Orlando doing better than they once were? Or has the achievement of poor students in the other cities declined at a faster rate than in Orlando?
The subheadline doesn't help: Gap between low-income and wealthier students is narrowing in Orlando.
This, it turns out, is the main thrust of the article, the reason the school system is patting itself on the back.
A new measure called the "education equality index," compares the performance of low-income and more affluent students on state standardized tests in cities and states across the country. ... Of the 100 cities included in the study, Orlando had the 16th smallest gap.
What is missing, entirely, from the article is any misgivings about how, exactly, this gap-narrowing has been achieved. Was it truly by raising the achievement levels of students from impoverished backgrounds, or have the other students slipped? The latter is much more easily accomplished, and in all my research on the subject—schools in the North and the South, public and private, at every level—most administrators are far less concerned about actual achievement than they are that there should be equality of outcome in all their demesne.
- The principal who told a friend, who was concerned about her daughter's lack of progress, "Your daughter is smart, lives with both her parents, and has breakfast every morning. I don't have time to worry about anyone who has such advantages."
- The administrator who announced, "The purpose of kindergarten is to get everyone to the same level."
- Those in a large school district who strove to dismantle one school's highly successful Advanced Placement program, because it made the other schools in the district look bad.
- Story after story of teachers who reached out to students others had given up on, and brought them to the highest levels of achievement, only meet obstruction at every step of the way from those who preferred an easy mediocrity.
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Orlando's students are all achieving at increasingly high levels. But my experience leads me to be doubtful. And even more concerned about the reporter's own easy acceptance of this as good news.
I just read an interesting article entitled, "I Didn’t Let My Kids Snack for a Week. Here’s What Happened." It reminded me again of my puzzlement over how we got to the point of believing that children can't go a few hours without food. I've always seen that attitude as a problem. A First World problem, to be sure, but still a strange and annoying problem.
It's true that my childhood was in the dim past, but I'm certain that snacks were few and far between. Yes, there was sometimes a glass of milk and cookies when I came home from school (really!), while my mother crafted dinner and we talked about my day. But generally we reserved eating for mealtime: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Eating between meals was frowned upon for many reasons: expense, mess to clean up, and above all, it would "spoil your dinner." Kids were expected to be hungry when they came to the table; it made us less likely to complain about the food.
When our own children came along, we pretty much continued the policy, but already society was starting to change. Soon you couldn't have an outside activity—from sports practices to Sunday school classes—without snacks. Parents began to feel abusive if they didn't offer food every time their children whined, "I'm h-u-n-g-r-y!" I don't think the increase in the number of children who are picky eaters is coincidental.
Spoiler Alert: So what happened when the author restricted snacking? Win-win-win.
I’m definitely going to continue feeding my family in this way. They ate a great variety of foods, and our time at the table together was actually enjoyable.
I didn’t spend it nagging, and they didn’t spend it whining. They arrived to the table hungry, and they ate. My house is cleaner, my kids are happier, and I feel way more in control.
My children have less [sic] meltdowns because they are better nourished. And I have fewer meltdowns because there are fewer demands on me.
I'm not against all snacking. I like snacks myself. Too much. But when it deprives children of the right to be hungry enough to appreciate good food, eaten at the table with family—there's a problem.
Today is Trinity Sunday. It's an important feast day in the church.
This means, among other things, that we sang St. Patrick's Breastplate in this morning. That always makes me happy.
Did I mention it's a feast day?
What better day for eating the incredible Publix Chocolate Trinity ice cream?
As I walked into a ladies' room at Animal Kingdom recently, I overheard a woman speaking to a small boy.
"No, don't go in there," she called, as he headed for the men's room. "You'll have to come in here because you're with Grandma."
As they entered the ladies' room she admonished, "You'll have to pee like a big boy instead of sitting down, because we're not at home. You'll have to stand like a big boy."
But there's more to peeing like a big boy than just standing up. Soon I heard the grandmother's voice at a somewhat higher pitch from inside the stall:
"Point it down. POINT IT DOWN!"
If Today.com can broadcast this, I guess I can, too.
We've known Rebecca since before she was born. Her husband, Erik, is the ultimate romantic, from his fairy-tale proposal to this incredible announcement of their pregnancy.
A few other people have been impressed by the video: last I looked, it had nearly 20,000 views on YouTube since it was posted less than a week ago.
I was going to say I can't wait to see what they'll come up with when the baby's actually born ... but on second thought I'm sure that sleep will be 'way higher on the priority list than making a film.
Congratulations, Rebecca and Erik!
I still wonder why it's called snobbery to believe that language should have standards. But more so I wonder how I became a grammar snob, given that my own education in the subject was so bad. One year we learned about nouns and verbs, the next about Class 1 and Class 2 words, then something else, as educational fashions changed—and then I think the teachers just gave up. So nearly all I know about grammar came from French class, from reading good books, and from listening to my parents, who spoke well themselves. I still can't explain why something is right, but for the most part I know it when I hear it.
Come to think of it, maybe that's actually why I care about good grammar: if what we read and what we hear can no longer be counted on to help us intuit the rules of a language, what is to become of those whose schools fail them?
And on the point of the comic, school failed us almost at once. I can't imagine that "on accident" was actively taught, but I do know that Heather had not been in a school environment very long before the phrase became cemented in her vocabulary, so I doubt much effort was put into correcting it. Then again, maybe the teachers tried—but peer influence is so terribly strong. Certainly I tried. But as I said, I may (usually) know what's right when it comes to the English language, but I still lack the tools to be persuasive about it.
Anyway, this comic made me smile, because it gibes both ways.
As if the breathtaking views from Janet's house weren't enough, a very short walk took me through these bucolic scenes of the hay harvest here in the Lucerne area. Large-scale agriculture and huge machines have their place, but I love this more human scale of farming, satisfying to both engineers and lovers of nature.
I have no degree in economics or finance, and certainly don't have the answers to our complex employment problems. But here are some observations that I think raise important questions.
- In Switzerland, wages are high and even so-called menial jobs are respected. HOWEVER, there is a high level of automation. The Swiss shake their heads in bemusement that we would pay someone to collect highway tolls or parking lot fees. They can't afford to pay good wages for low-skilled jobs.
- In Switzerland, college tuition is low and heavily subsidized. HOWEVER, only a small percentage of the population attends college. The educational system also includes an excellent vocational program in cooperation with the business community.
- It makes no sense to push for imitation of another country's system ("We should make college free and guarantee everyone a living wage!") without considering what makes the good thing possible ("Are we willing to completely restructure our educational system, drastically restrict who can attend college, and eliminate low-skill jobs? If not, how can we, in practice, make it work?").
- I'm a firm believer in the philosophy that education is valuable in and of itself, irrespective of the economic value it can confer. But how can we in good conscience encourage young people to take on boatloads of debt to acquire college degrees for which there are few or no jobs that will enable them to pay off that debt?
- Unemployment is very high in The Gambia. Since long before the current refugee crisis, young Gambian men have been taking the "back door" into Europe, entering illegally and hoping to establish themselves, undetected, because they see no hope at home. The Gambia doesn't need more direct aid nearly so much as it needs an economy and a culture that support entrepreneurship, ambition, and job-creation.
- Low-skill, low-wage jobs in the United States, like working at McDonald's, used to be a way for teenagers to get some work experience and earn a little pocket-money. Apparently, they are now increasingly being held by people who are trying to make a living and perhaps even support a family. No wonder they want more money! But how did we get into this situation—where responsible adults are taking unskilled, part-time, teen-age jobs—and how do we get out of it? Certainly not by flooding the workforce with more unskilled labor, which brings me to...
- I'm frequently told that we need a large supply of foreign workers to take on jobs "that Americans don't want to do." My immediate reaction is that if Americans don't want to do the jobs, then the wages are too low. Raise the pay, and Americans will find the jobs more attractive. But as long as there continues to be a good supply of people eager to take the low-salaried jobs, the pay will stay at unattractive levels.
- I'm also told that paying a decent wage to workers, instead of relying on what amounts to a slave-labor force, will drive food prices sky-high, with, say, tomatoes costing $40/pound. First of all, I'm pretty sure that's nonsense: As mentioned above, the Swiss all enjoy good wages, and yes, the cost of living is high, but nothing like that scale. And second, isn't it better to pay more for our goods than to enjoy a discount based on slave labor? The American South tried the "our economy will fall apart without slaves" argument before the Civil War, and look how well it worked out for them.
- One reason it is so difficult for the Gambian economy to grow is that there is no culture of saving or investment. If you have money that you don't need immediately, right now, in this moment, you are expected to give it to members of your family. Even distant relatives, from the truly needy to the plainly indolent, have a claim on you. There is little appreciation of the value of accumulating money for the purpose of acquiring the equipment or supplies needed to start a business, or for getting a better price by purchasing in bulk, or of pouring money back into a business to help it grow. If you have money now, you spend it now, or someone else will spend it for you.
- I worry that this "spend it all now" attitude has infected America, from the poorest welfare recipient to the largest corporations. The poor man who refuses to sacrifice today for the sake of his children and his future cheats himself and his family, but the corporate managers and stockholders who prize short-term gain over long-term stability and growth have the power to cheat millions of families—and maybe destroy a nation. And those in between cheat on both ends, by depriving their own families and by not investing wisely in economic growth.
As promised: no answers. But questions worth considering.
The Lion of Saint Mark: A Tale of Venice in the 14th Century by G. A. Henty (Preston-Speed, 2000; originally published 1889)
When we decided to make a visit to Venice, Porter reviewed the appropriate lectures from our Great Courses Guide to Essential Italy and studied Rick Steves' website and Venice travel guide thoroughly.
Me? I read G. A. Henty's The Lion of St. Mark.
Because Henty's works are primarily about young men and written with an audience of boys in mind, they devote more print to battle scenes than I would prefer; nonetheless I thoroughly enjoyed this adventure novel set in historical Venice. The story was fun, I liked the characters, and the historical setting seems reasonably accurate based on what I learned from our time there. Now that I've actually walked through the setting, I'm re-reading the story and enjoying it even more.
Henty's books have been republished, and I had a hardcover copy to read. But The Lion of St. Mark is also available as a free Kindle book.
I'm glad I discovered Kids Mode on my mobile phone: On my last visit Vivienne managed to change my display to greyscale. Kids Mode is somewhat protective.
Our grandkids are very good about taking "no" for an answer, but the question is frequent: Grandma, may I use your phone?
Joseph (5) wants to play PEAK brain-training games. Vivienne (4) is frustrated that most of the PEAK games are still beyond her but loves to watch videos, look at pictures, and use the Kids' Mode camera, sound recorder, and other features. Daniel (2) has but one desire: to watch the two videos I made of pictures of the U.S. states flashing by in sync with an excerpt from the song, Fifty Nifty United States. (Daniel is obsessed with states and loves to sing along, ending with a resounding, "WY-OMING!") Ellie (10 months) is too young to have a favorite app, but figures anything her siblings want so badly must be a good thing, and goes after the phone every chance she gets. My Samsung Galaxy S5 is supposed to be water resistant, but I'm not inclined to test it against saliva and her sharp little teeth. Her turn will come soon enough.
I'm not really complaining. The phone is an amazing educational tool and I so enjoy watching the kids learn. Hopefully they will recover quickly from any bad media-related habits, since Grandma's phone is only available when Grandma is around. I'll have to be careful, however. Eagle-eyed Vivienne watches closely as I enter the PIN that restores full control over the phone, and she's probably now beyond just changing the color of the screen. There are some games she'd really like to purchase....
We visited so many churches in Venice (Italy, not Florida), and each one had to be seen twice: first as a museum, because everywhere you turn there's a famous work of art, and then as a church. From the art to the architecture to the acoustics, each of these ancient, monumental buildings is a soul-expanding experience.
The Frari Church affected me the most. It's stunningly beautiful, with glorious arches and windows and columns, and famous artwork everywhere. Titian worshipped here! And here is he buried, as is Monteverdi, and Canova's heart. (Canova is spread around a bit.) Titian's Assumption of the Virgin is the high altarpiece.
But it was a side chapel that captured me. It was open for private prayer, so I walked in and knelt, alone. I have no idea how much time I spent there, but it was long enough to gain an unsought appreciation for the value of icons, and pictures, and other physical representations of people and events—so important for conveying information in times when the written word meant nothing to most people. It was not information that was given to me, however, but an environment conducive to meditation, thought, and listening. It's easy to talk too much when I pray, as if I expect the experience to be a one-sided conversation. This was something entirely different, and when I stepped out of the chapel and walked back into the nave it was as if I had been altogether elsewhere—I mentally tripped over a threshold. I'm sure I was gone only a few minutes, but the feeling of time suspended was intense.
Swiss yards tend to be small because land is precious and the population is dense. Even so, they come up with some very clever and often beautiful ways of not mowing lawns. Here are some of the creative yards I've found within a short walk of Janet's house. (Click to enlarge)
Cascades of beauty.
A few days ago, in a conversation about childrearing and discipline, I was reminded that it's as important to remember where we were and how far we've progressed as it is to see where we are and how far we have yet to go.
That idea came to mind again as I began to read a Facebook post by someone whose church affiliation I thought I knew. "Wow," I thought. "That's an amazing statement that must have come from some deep soul-searching. I wonder if it reflects the thoughts of the church in general, or if she'll feel some heat because of it."
Then it occurred to me that I was probably wrong, and that she was not from Church A, but was instead a member of Church B. Suddenly the post was no longer a brave and bold attempt at understanding and radical inclusiveness, but a reiteration of words and attitudes one hears daily from "the other side."
It's possible that I have met this person, but I certainly don't know her. I'm not sure of her church affiliation. My comments are no judgement of her; she is just the trigger, not the subject of my ruminations. But I was startled by the change in my own reaction.
I believe it was C. S. Lewis who spoke of a man standing on a path in the middle of a hill, who may be going up, or going down; it's impossible to judge without knowing where the man came from. That's what happened to me. It was the same words. It was the same writer. But she fell in an instant from brave, compassionate thinker to mindless conformist as my view of her background shifted.
Along with much of the rest of the world, I mourn the unexpected loss of a wonderful musician.
About the musician born Prince Rogers Nelson I feel nothing more than normal sorrow due at the death of any human being. His heyday was after my time (I was too busy raising babies to care about the music scene) and I don't like his style of music anyway.
But nine days earlier the world lost another amazing musician: my own cousin Mike. He was two years younger than me, but the shock and sorrow of his death is far more than just a sharp reminder of my own mortality.
We were not particularly close as children, growing up as we did half a continent (and for two years, half a world) apart, in a day when communication and travel were far more difficult than they are now. But I was deeply moved when in later years he attended Janet's Eastman School recital, and—thanks to Facebook—we had recently begun to become reacquainted.
Mike was one of my favorite sorts of Facebook friends: an example of how people who differ markedly in political leanings, social attitudes, and lifestyle can still express their views freely while listening to one another and respecting each other's humanity. Much as I love having friends who agree with me, disagreeing with respect is such an important (and famously lacking) skill that in some ways I appreciate that even more. Except for the use of the term enemy (opponent would perhaps have served my purpose better), I'm reminded of a quote from C. S. Lewis' The Last Battle: "Has not one of the poets said that a noble friend is the best gift and a noble enemy the next best?"
But Mike and I did not have nearly enough time to enjoy and explore that relationship. We had barely begun. I had no time to appreciate properly his musicianship, much less his heart of compassion for the lonely, the weary, the down-and-out.
Truthfully, much of Mike's music is a bit too dark for me, and it's not the style I generally prefer to listen to—though far, far closer to my own taste than the music of Prince!—but that doesn't stop me from recognizing and appreciating his considerable talent and skill.
Here's one of his songs, the best of the recordings I could find on YouTube:
You can learn a lot more about Mike's music at http://www.mcubedmusic.com/ and http://michaelmclaughlinmusic.com/. At the first link you can hear songs from his album, Part of the Plan. The second features his newest album, just recently released: Spare Me Some Humanity. The latter makes me grieve all the more that his career was cut short, because I love the increasing influence of world music on his compositions. At this site you can hear more from Spare Me Some Humanity, but alas only brief excerpts of each piece.
Of course my cousin was much more than his music ... but his music is easier to write about.
Rest in peace, Mike.