Monday, October 30, 2006

Kind of Boo

Some random thoughts on Halloween morning:
  • Happy anniversary to my two favorite local radio stations, KNTU (which turns 37) and KRLD, which is 80 (they had a big bash last week that I was unable to attend)

  • If Halloween seems like a weird day to debut a radio station, history would make it doubly so for KNTU, which spent about fifteen years in a house that was rumored to be haunted. If you've missed my story of Haunted Smith Hall in years past, read it here.

  • I'm not expecting any trick-or-treaters tonight, because I really don't know any families with kids in my neighborhood (truthfully, I hardly know my neighbors at all; it's not that I'm antisocial, but rather that my long work hours either bring me home when everyone has gone in for the night, or I'm indoors teaching at times when they would be out). I'm hoping that most parents are smart enough to not let their kids knock on a stranger's door nowadays (an unfortunate sign of the times), but I do have one little bag of orange-colored Kit Kat bars on my kitchen table just in case

  • Another sign of the times is that nobody's really allowed to wear costumes to school anymore--too much of a security risk, I suppose. But "back in the day," I had fun teaching princesses and astronauts and Mario and a few kids here and there who wore masks so big that they had to take them off to play the saxophone.

  • Here's the scariest thing I've seen so far: Near the aisle with all the Halloween decorations at Super Target this past weekend, I could see the Christmas decorations peeking out! Isn't that just a little too early?
The college big band has the night off, so I get to go home at 5:15 today; that's "holiday" enough for me. And I'll be bringing a decent-sized contingency to the "Boo-Rito" thing at Chipotle tonight; I'll let you know if, for the second straight year, our burrito costumes are once again the best.

They won't cross your path tonight: The Boise animal shelter has put a temporary ban on black cat adoptions through the end of the week; they're concerned that the cats might be injured in Halloween pranks, or--even worse--be used in ritual sacrifices (*shudder*).

Witchcraft now comes with a money-back guarantee: A self-proclaimed witch in Munich was ordered to refund her client's hefty fee after a "love spell" she cast failed to win back the client's partner.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Strike Up the (Marching) Bands

I went to the Area Marching Contest finals last night; I didn't actually hear the results of the prelims before I arrived, but I had faith that at least a couple of my schools would make the finals, and sure enough, three of them did, and one would advance to the state contest, while another would be named one of the alternates. (You can find out all the results for the two Dallas-area contests here.)

As I said last week after seeing two of my schools play each other in a game, marching band has changed a lot since I was in school (commenter Gary P. correctly attributes most of those changes, of which he is not a fan, to the strong influence of Drum Corps International). This has led to things like the use of solo instruments up front next to the pit (which has included saxophone solos in the past, a practice of which I strongly approve), and lots of other unusual things as well:
  • I meant to mention last week that the two schools I saw last week included things like a flute duet and a vocalist; both these things were repeated last night and came off well.

  • The unusual instruments came out in droves last night; one school featured an oboe solo (which made sense, because they were performing part of an oboe concerto in their show), and another one had a piccolo/bassoon duet. I'm pretty sure I heard some piano in there too, though I never could spot the keyboard player. Another school performed part of Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" (with some of the borderline-risque dancing but no accompanying riot from the fans), but they used a solo trombone in place of the famous bassoon.

  • Another show, patriotic in nature, had a pair of narrators located next to the pit. I'd never heard narration in a show from anywhere but the pressbox in the past

  • I also forgot to mention last week that one of my schools did a holiday show that ended with the whole band singing "Auld Lang Syne" at the end; by last night, they'd put it into four-part harmony at the end
One of the schools also had all-white uniforms (except for their drum majors, who wore all black). I wonder what the dry-cleaning bill is for those babies...

As I've said before, I have a definite appreciation for marching band, even as I'm fully aware that I'm not the person to be teaching it. I enjoy the performances, but I'd probably hate the rehearsals even more than the students do. I've always thought that a little too much time is put into something that is really as much entertainment as it is music, and it's always seemed to me that there are way too many contests before the "real" one that determines whether or not the band advances to area. But something that a band parent (from the school that's advancing to state) told me last night made something click about all that: She was talking about how bad the show looked at their very first "pre-contest" competition and how much better it looked after being battle-tested for virtually the entire month of October. It made me realize that, since the music and movement has gotten so much more complex, perhaps it really does need a few more competitive performances to get up to the high level that's being sought. (For the "indoor" version of "why I'm not a band director, even though I appreciate what they do," read this post from earlier in the year.)

One of my colleagues made note of the fact that, during the time when everyone was waiting for the results to be announced, many of the band parents were acting as crazy as the kids were (doing the Wave, etc.). I said that, yeah, a lot of them really were just "grown-up band nerds," (meaning that in the nicest way, since I'm one too), and my friend said, that's right, we're reproducing at a great rate. That can only be good for America...seriously.

One more thing--my thoughts go out to the Allen High School band, two of whose buses were involved in a wreck on LBJ yesterday on the way to their own area contest. Five of the students complained of neck and back injuries. (I teach one kid out of the 600 in that band, so the odds aren't great that he was one of the ones involved, but still, I'm eagerly awaiting a reply from the email I sent his mom last night.) The band did regroup and make it to the finals of their contest last night.

Light when we don't need it, dark when we do: I trust that by now, you're aware that Daylight Wasting Time began today. You can probably also tell that I'm not a fan of having the extra hour of daylight at six in the morning instead of later in the day when I could really use it. Instapundit is a fan of year-round daylight savings time for the same reason, and because it would actually save a lot of energy to keep the extra hour of daylight in the evening. He also points to a Popular Mechanics article that supports the same thinking.

Personally, I blame Mr. Wilson: A statue of Dennis the Menace was stolen from a city park in California this week.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Simple Solution for Education: One Year Later (Part 1)

It was a year ago at this time that I offered my simple solution for education, better known as the "Administrators Must Teach" post. While nothing has actually been accomplished in this area (because, among other things, I'm not an influential blogger or a gazillionaire), I'm still convinced that doing this would be a very smart move for school districts everywhere.

In anticipation of this post, I've been saving some examples of both poor administrative decisions of recent vintage and some great quotes that support my position here. First, the decisions:
  • If you're from the Dallas area, you probably know about the cheerleader flap at McKinney North; if not, here it is in a nutshell: The cheerleader sponsor quit (both as sponsor and as a teacher at the school) after she claimed that her efforts to discipline team members were constantly thwarted by school administrators all the way up to the superintendent. Oh, and you should know that one of the cheerleaders in question is the principal's daughter.

    This situation is still under investigation; to the district's credit, they brought in an outsider to lead things, and the principal took a week's leave at that time so that everyone on campus could be questioned without fear of reprisal. But if the principal had really thought this one out, wouldn't she have recused herself from any disciplinary decisions involving her daughter in the first place?

  • A fifth-grade teacher in South Carolina allowed some students to use a trash can as a toilet when the school was conducting an extended lockdown drill. Perhaps that wasn't the greatest judgement on the teacher's part, but he was somewhat stuck--just imagine the complaints from parents if the kids had soiled themselves in class instead.

    But the reaction of an administrator in this district was ridiculous:
    [Associate Superintendent Patricia] Yandle said if the school had been on an actual lockdown and students needed to use the restroom, she would have encouraged them to think about something other than the bathroom.
    Think about something other than the bathroom? What the heck! The story said this drill lasted "less than an hour." I'm pretty sure that the school custodian would have had to be called out to clean up all the "think" off the floor if that situation had really taken place. I'd like to see how well Ms. Yandle would deal with that situation if it happened to her. As I said, there's just too much of a disconnect from the real world with some of these people...

  • Then there's the school district that recently banned tag, apparently so that accidents wouldn't happen that might hold the school liable (getting the schools to stop running in fear of lawyers all the time is another post for another day). A quote from a parent says it all:
    "I think that it's unfortunate that kids' lives are micromanaged and there are social skills they'll never develop on their own," said Debbie Laferriere, who has two children at Willett, about 40 miles south of Boston. "Playing tag is just part of being a kid."
    My sentiments exactly.

  • And we can't forget the Sydney McGee story, concerning the art teacher who was allegedly suspended for taking her students to the Dallas Museum of Art, where some kids saw nude sculptures. (We've talked about this before, so I'll point you to that post if you need my take on the situation.)

  • There's also the thing with the overreaction to the recent school shootings, which I've discussed here.
And now for some quotes that are in line with my position:
  • "In New York City, those who can.... teach.

    Those who can't teach because they can't get a teaching license... become principals.

    It seems as though there are more and more young people who teach for a minimal number of years and then get the hell out of Dodge obtain (often through political patronage) an administrative position that pays more to "start" than a classroom teacher earns with 20 years experience, a Master's degree, and a desk-drawer full of letters from grateful students and parents."--from an August post at a blog called The Education Wonks; read the whole thing. (A commenter to this post also notes that Germany evidently has some sort of administrators-must-teach requirement like the one I'm advocating here.)

  • Finally, let's close with a quote from Dallas Morning News education columnist Scott Parks, from a recent column:
    Most school board members are well meaning but clueless. A lot of school superintendents are smart but paranoid. Principals love children but disdain anyone who questions their authority. Most teachers work long hours for short money and feel like martyrs in hair shirts.

    And one more thing: Despite their human frailties, these people all share a genuine dedication to public education. They are determined to protect it the way a mother bear defends her cubs.

    Public educators – perhaps more than other government employees – allow their passion for the job to give them amnesia. They forget that schools are not their own private enterprise. Veins pop out on their foreheads when an "outsider" reminds them of the word "public" in the phrase public education.
    It should be noted that, in this column, he's giving kudos to the districts who actually have brought in outsiders to investiage recent problems, such as the McKinney North cheerleader issue.
As I said a year ago, I really don't expect my idea to take off anytime soon, but if it keeps getting tossed out there enough, maybe the right person will read it and have the courage to give it a try. Much like the politician who goes to Washington and gets caught up in all the power and perks and ultimately ceases to be a regular citizen, the teacher who gets "promoted" to administrator can often become a bureaucrat or politiican and stop being a teacher in the process (assuming that they ever were one in the first place; the Education Wonks article notes that some new administrators are completely bypassing the teacher track, and to me, that's just flat-out wrong).

Since this post has gone pretty long already, I'll save some final thoughts, as well as a few rudimental ideas I have for actually implementing the administrators-must-teach plan (and believe me, the whole thing is still very much a work in progress) for tomorrow. (Actually, it may be Monday before I finish, because I'm going to Area Marching Contest tonight, so tomorrow's post may well be about marching band.)

Friday, October 27, 2006

I. Sasquatch

At the end of last Sunday's vulturing, I did something unusual (at least for me): I bought a pair of shoes. During the warm part of the year (which is pretty much March-October around here), my casual footwear is made of rubber or leather with rubber straps and the accompanying flip-flopping noise, but now that it's shoe season, so to speak, I had to do something about the fact that my sneakers were way too small.

I've worn a size twelve since eighth grade (which had to be comical back in the day, since i was about five-foot-two at the time), but I've always noticed how wildly inconsistent shoe sizes can be, both from manufacturer to manufacturer and even within a single brand. After wearing my New Balance for teaching (casual Friday, of course) and the game on Friday night and for my vulturing on Sunday, I knew I had to get a new pair, because, even though these were only a year or two old, they were getting painful to even have on, much less walk in--a feeling I usually only experience when I'm forced to wear dress shoes.

So for the first time in my life, I bought a pair of size 13's. I'm sure that if there had been a twelve-and-a-half, that would have been fine, but I saw no such animal during my shopping; it went right from 12 to 13. (That now means that I'm a shoe size that doesn't exist and a waist size that doesn't exist. No wonder I'm tough to shop for.) As another casual Friday has passed at school, I found that, as Spike Lee's character used to say in those commercials, it's the shoes, man; it's gotta be the shoes. Sure enough, no creaky knees, no tiredness of the feet. I'm glad I didn't wait any longer to do this. Still, it's odd that a size 12 in everything else works fine, but I needed to jump up a size for this one particular type of shoe. Buying a 13 may make me feel like Bigfoot, but at least the big feet are comfortable now.

Oh, and if anyone out there would like a gently-used pair of New Balance in size 12, they're yours.

I hope they make a firefighting merit badge: A pack of Cub Scouts in Pennsylvania were only about 500 yards into their appearance in a local Halloween parade when their float caught on fire. Thankfully, the parade inlcluded fire trucks as well.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Not Exactly Spot-On

I apologize for the spottiness of my posts lately; I've at least started one nearly every day, but sometimes I'll make it to the weekend and have two or three unfinished ones waiting in the pipe. If I can actually break the cycle of staying up too late almost every night, I'll be able to get up on one or two snooze alarms (hey, I'm only human) and do my blogging in the morning, when I'm uninterrupted by things like phone calls and IM's (don't get me wrong--I love talking to my friends, but it's not too conducive to writing blog posts). I'm looking forward to a bit of relaxation this weekend, that's for sure.

The DPS doesn't need a drive-thru: No matter how long it's been since you first got your driver's license, you almost have to feel for the young woman in Indiana who, while parking at the drivers license office, drove right into the building instead.

Unfortunate criminal of the week, Part 2: A man who tried to steal the golf clubs off an Indiana woman's porch got more than he bargained for when the woman whupped him upside the head with a cooking pot.

Boo-rito: It's official--Chipotle is once again running its promotion on Tuesday where you can go in dressed like a burrito (think tinfoil, and lots of it) between 5 and 10 p.m. and get a free dinner. I had a good time doing this last year.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Most Overblown Legal Rhetoric of the Week So Far

"What you conducted in your chambers, Judge, was the equivalent of Iran leading UN weapons inspectors around the country taking them to places where the illegal activity was not occurring."--Florida lawyer Jack Thompson, decrying the ruling by Judge Ronald Friedman that allowed the company Take Two to ship the controversial video game Bully. Read the whole story and more over-the-top statements from Thompson here.

Unfortunate criminals of the week: A couple of teenagers in Omaha tried to rob a 68-year-old man, figuring they'd get some money without a fight. Boy, were they wrong.

Monkey business: When the fire alarm was pulled at a great ape research center in Des Moines recently, officials were suprised to find out that one of their bonobos did it.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Vulture Tour

I had an unusual agenda for my spare time today: Visit a couple of places that are in the process of going out of business in the hopes of getting some really good deals. My two targets were Tower Records (the demise of which I discussed earlier) and the LBJ store of Brook Mays (the onetime print music headquarters), in the hopes of finding some cheap CD's and either solo/ensemble music or Aebersolds, respectively.

But since I was headed towards downtown anyway, I had to make a little detour to CD Source, as it had been a few months since my last trip there. After lunch at the Panda next door (where I randomly ran into Eric, who was grabbing a bite on his way to work), I hit my favorite used CD place and, as almost always, came out with some new treasure. (If you're interested, I got the following: Clayton Brothers, Siblingity and Astral Project, Elevado, along with two other "replacement" CD's [i.e. ones I used to own but somehow were permanently "borrowed" by somebody or another]: Ed Petersen, The Haint and Kevin Mahogany, Songs and Moments.)

When I arrived at Tower, I had a little trouble finding a parking place, which I don't think had ever happened to me when the company was thriving. I got a kick out of the signs plastered all over the store: "If You Don't Buy It Today, It Might Not Be Here Tomorrow." It must have been longer than I thought since I'd visited there, because I had no clue that jazz had been moved to the basement with the classical and world music.

And the general verdict? I need to come back again when the markdowns are up to 40% or so, because, even though they still have a pretty good jazz selection, far too many CD's still have the same $18.95 list price that helped sink the company in the first place, and with the discount just being 20%, that's still more expensive than Amazon. I did pick up two things: Chris Potter's newest, Underground, which I got for an Amazon-ish fourteen bucks, and the self-titled U.S debut from Steps Ahead, which I'd never seen on disc before.

I did have to deal with a rather snotty employee at the checkout counter. I have one of those cards that could be used for credit or debit, so they gave me one of those little keypad devices to enter my PIN, but it didn't work even when I did everything correctly. As I calmly explained that I'd done what he and the machine had asked me to do, he seemed to get aggravated with me rather quickly, saying "Well, you're still gonna have to enter your number again!" with a raised voice. I made the universal "calm down" sign with my hands as I said "OK, easy now." I did realize at that moment that, yeah, in a few weeks that guy would be unemployed, but still, that was no excuse for acting like that to a customer, especially if he'll be job-seeking in the near future.

After taking the long way up Preston Road and gawking at all the huge houses in Highland Park, I arrived at Brook Mays. Much to my dismay, I found that the vulturing would be over for today, as there was a sign on the door stating that all the print music had been sold (my guess is that they sold it to a large retalier like Pender's, which I'm sure netted them more money than selling it at 40% off like they'd done at the smaller stores).

So I guess my search for carrion was half successful today. And while it's never good to see a company go under (especially one that employed me for so long), it was nice to catch a bargain or two in the process. More Tower vulturing later, I suppose.

RELATED READING: Another take on the demise of Tower.

Still under the gun: I'm still getting comments on my post from last week about whether the shoot-to-kill policy is a good idea for police officers, especially when kids are involved. It's only a three-way conversation at the moment, and the other two aren't agreeing with me, but I'm standing my ground; join the fray if you'd like.

A Scout is loyal, respectful and trustworthy. He also doesn't use LimeWire: There's a new activity patch for Boy Scouts in the Los Angeles area who learn about the evils of downloading movies.

This new flick is flimed in RAZRvision: Speaking of movies, there was a film festival held recently in Paris that was devoted strictly to films shot on cell-phone cameras.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Friday Night Lights x 3

At least once a year, I go to a high school football game in my area to see as many of my students march as possible (which can usually be accomplished by watching my two biggest [as in the most students of mine] play against each other. Last night was that game, so I took advantage of the situation and made my appearance. As always, I had a few observations:
  • The band on whose side I spent the second half did crazier stuff in the stands than we ever did in my high school days. Not only did more than one section do wacky dancing during all the drum cadences, but pretty much everyone participated.

  • That being said, the other activity in the stands was far more regimented than when I was in school. After halftime, we had the third quarter off to go walk around and grab refreshments; this school had to pretty much sit in an orderly fashion (OK, except when dancing) and needed an adult chaperone to escort small groups of people to the restroom.

  • As I said a year ago, it always amazes me how much marching band has changed since I was in high school, and how little drill team has done so in that same period of time
All in all, spending a Friday night under the lights in Texas is a good way to spend one's time (though I'll concede that I'm glad my job doesn't require this of me on a weekly basis). The game I saw was exciting and actually pretty close most of the time. If this ends up being my only stadium visit this year, I picked a good one.

And on the same subject, when I got home from the game, I watched a show that I'd taped earlier in the week: NBC's Friday Night Lights, based on the book and movie of the same name about West Texas high school football (in this case, moved from Odessa to the fictitious town of Dillon). I've heard that it hasn't been doing so well in the ratings, but I was drawn in immediately; the story and characters seemed pretty realistic. I'll definitely be taping it on a regular basis. (And if you're questioning the wisdom of showing a program with "Friday" in the title on Tuesday, remember that most of the people who would watch this show would be attending an actual high school football game on Fridays.)

Reality meets TV: Following the episode of FNL on my tape (yes, I'm so ancient that I don't even have TiVo yet) was the season finale of a similar show, MTV's Two-A-Days. The premise is similar, except this show documents an actual team, Hoover High in Alabama. The Bucs won a state championship last year, and I for one would definitely pay money to see them play the mythical national chamipion from here in the Dallas area, Southlake Carroll. That would probably be a great game...

Friday, October 20, 2006

It's Just Not in the Script Anymore

There's been a lot of talk lately about the decline of cursive writing, and I like others, have to ask: Does it really matter? A recent Washington Post story noted that just 15% of the nearly million-and-a-half students who took the SAT last year wrote their answers in cursive (the others printed in block letters); considering how much that generation has come to rely on text messages and IM's to communicate, that's not at all surprising.

But again--what's the loss? Sure, some handwriting experts say that students who lack penmanship skills often have trouble organizing their thoughts as well, but that is likely no longer the case in terms of today's reality. Historians may lament this loss as well (will museums of the future display the personal emails of some notable public figure, and will husbands and wives keep a collection of printed-out IM's of love in the absence of love letters?), but ultimately, in today's world, what's more important is the content of what is written, rather than its form.

KRLD newsman Mike Rogers covered this subject today in his The Other Side of the News; he interviews a Chicago educator and penmanship expert who notes that the decline of penmanship started way back in the fifties. He also points out that some material that's machine-printed instead of written, such as Christmas cards, really lacks the personal touch. (However, even he agrees that the cursive capital Q that looks like the number 2 is ridiculous.)

Except for my (admittedly horrid) signature, I haven't written anything in cursive since around my sophomore year in college. I remember when I started printing the name of the recipient on checks (which itself has become an anachronism for me, since the only bill I don't pay online anymore is my mortgage payment), and from there it pretty much snowballed into school assignments and what-not, and eventually, it all moved over to the computer. Anyone who's seen my handwriting would say that this development is no loss at all.

I can understand why some traditionalists would lament the loss of the art of cursive writing, but we'd be crazy not to take advantage of the technology that's available to us. I'm sure that someone once complained when the abacus and the slide rule went out of favor, but the things that replaced them are simply superior.

Besides, if someone really wanted to see a flowing script, we could always do this.

When's the last time you wrote anything in cursive?

My favorite headline of the week so far: Russia probes reports Spanish king shot drunk bear.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

I Could Get Used to This...

Thanks to a double whammy of high school marching contest and the PSAT being given at all the local high schools, I had a very short teaching day yesterday. The public-school portion started at 10:15 and ended at two, and then, after a little break, I had two more (of the usual three) come to the house.

I defiinitely look forward to the day when I can do this all the time; I wasn't exhausted by the end of the day, and I actually had time to think a little bit. Granted, I took a triple-digit hit in income because of everything, but one of these days, I'll find out a way to strike the perfect balance between making a living and still having a little time to catch my breath during the day. As you can well imagine, I'm working on that...

Bureaucracy in action: Jackie Chan says he prefers making movies in his native Hong Kong to here in the U.S., mostly because Hollywood's safety and insurance rules interfere with stunt work on too many occasions.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Survey Says....Who Cares?

I read an interesting column in the paper over the weekend, by the New York Times' John Tierney (which, thankfully, was reprinted by the Dallas Morning News so that you don't have to be a paid NYT Web subscriber to read it). The subject: Polls. Here's a sample:
The voters have spoken. If only they made sense.

You may have heard that American voters are disappointed. They are disappointed with Dennis Hastert and the rest of Congress. They are very disappointed with the war in Iraq. They are very, very disappointed with President Bush.

I share their unhappiness, but I must confess to one further regret. I am disappointed with the voters – or at least the ones who show up in public opinion polls. They keep complaining that Washington doesn't understand what they want, but who on earth could? Early in the Iraq war, Americans told pollsters they favored it and considered it a major part of the war on terrorism. Then they decided the war was a mistake and didn't reduce the risk of terrorism. Yet as they got angrier and angrier at Republicans for making a mess of Iraq, they kept telling pollsters that they didn't trust the Democrats to do a better job of dealing with terrorism.
Here's my take on the subject: Sure, the voters may be confused, but the real confusion here is why anyone would put stock in a poll, much less use said poll to decide for whom to vote or, if one is an elected official, what action to take on a specific policy or piece of legislation.

I'm sorry, but I never have bought into the whole concept of polls, unless they're being used for entertainment purposes (and to me, their entertainment value is on the level of, say, one's daily horoscope, but so is their accuracy). I don't accept that using the responses of a sample can predict the behavior of a population, no matter how scientific the sample appears to be. (This is one of the big reasons I abandoned my ill-chosen Ph.D in music education; the other one was, obviously, that I had become such a jazz and performance guy by the time that I left North Texas that I had no desire to put my horn down for a year and go live on the fourth floor of Willis Library doing research. But high up on the list of reasons had to be that I don't see the point in using research methods to create these artificial subgroups of the population who may or may not do things exactly as their peers do.)

I might be really stubborn on this, but perhaps one of the big reasons I don't believe in polls is because I have never participated in one. This is partially of my own doing; even back when I used to answer my home phone, a solicitor would never get past his/her inevitable mispronunciation of my last name ("Good evening, Mr. McNeary, how are you today?") before I quickly ended the call. (Indeed, an article I read a few years ago noted that this is becoming a problem for pollsters; those who have ditched their land lines for cell phones don't get to participate in polling because solicitors aren't allowed--thankfully--call cell customers, so an entire demographic of the population is automatically excluded from their surveys.) In the same way, I've never had a Nielsen box on my TV set, so I've never put too much stock in those ratings, since I've never been given a vote in that process.

I fully realize that there's no way that a poll could be 100% accurate because of the sheer impracticality of getting everyone's opinion on so many issues (i.e. if the Nielsen boxes were hooked up to every TV set in America). I'm not saying that polls shoudn't exist, but it disappoints me that so many people who make important decisions would place as much value on polls as they do, and it really annoys me to see their results be used as the basis for so many stories in the media.

So why don't I think that samples can reflect a population? It's simple: People act more as individuals than they do as part of a group (and those who actually do subscribe to identity politics are, in my humble opinion, on the wrong path). Just because four or five 37-year-old suburban women with three kids who don't work outside the home think that Political Party X would do a better job with the economy than Political Party Y doesn't mean that all people sharing that demographic feel the same way, and I sure don't think that anyone else who shares my demographic automatically speaks for me, nor should they be allowed to do so.

I doubt that the polls are going to go away anytime soon (unless everyone gives up their land line for a cell phone, at which point the polls will suddenly take the form of spammy emails, some of which will never be read by their intended targets due to filtering get the idea), but right now, I for one am growing tired of hearing about them every day. If a wise politiican wanted to get a better idea of the "will of the people," perhaps talking to more of those people in person would be a better idea than relying on pseudo-science for the answers. In the meantime, I'll probably still read some of these poll-driven articles, just as I read my horoscope every day for fun....and, as I said, I'll put equal stock in both.

I'm using the letter W in this blog post; I hope they don't sue me too: The University of Wisconsin has threatened legal action against an Iowa school district because the district's "W" logo looks too much like the one used by the university.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The End of an Era

I found out as I left Brook Mays yesterday that this would be my final time to teach there, as the store is closing on Sunday. Everyone has known this day was coming for quite some time, since the company was sold out of bankruptcy to a liquidator back in August (my earlier thoughts on the subject are here), but it was still a little weird to walk out of there yesterday evening knowing that I would not be doing so next week.

As i said in the earlier post, I've been a part of the Plano store since May of 1992; it started out as what was supposed to be a summer job in the print music department, but, even as that job continued, it grew into an additional teaching venue that both paid more than the schools do and allowed me the chance to work with some good students from other districts who wouldn't have crossed paths with me otherwise. The place has been getting emptier as the weeks have gone by, and by the time I was there yesterday, almost an entire half of the store was vacant; it reminded me of the day we moved back into the building on Labor Day of '94 (we had been in temporary quarters since a fire in June of '93). The circle of life, as they say...

Later on in the week, I'll compile a post about all the funny stuff that customers said when they called the store with questions; I always said I could write a book about that, so a blog post should be fairly effortless.

A walk along the mean (and green) streets: A dog that disappeared from his family's California home last month has finally been found...all the way over here, in Denton. They found him because he had one of those microchips implanted in his neck containing his owners' information.

Monday, October 16, 2006

An Unlucky Break, Fixed

I almost got catapulted into the world of contact lenses a little prematurely today. You see, for the past few weeks, my glasses had been getting looser and looser on one side. I'd always been able to tighten the little screw with one of my saxophone screwdrivers, but I knew that it was only a matter of time before the whole thing fell apart. Sure enough, about halfway into my first lesson of the day, I felt the left side of the glasses lean in one direction and the right earpiece start to fall.

Thankfully, the modern band hall has a few supplies that could help me out. I borrowed some electrical tape from a color guard person, taped them together in the least geeky way possible and continued through the first part of my morning. When it came time for lunch and my next school, I headed to Firewheel instead. Neither of the two optical places had a repair department, but they both recommended a place over in Richardson. That's not exactly in my backyard, but I took the twenty-minute drive willingly.

This was indeed my lucky day, as the guy wasn't busy (though he got that way right after I came in). It turns out it was a simple solder job, which he did while I waited for an extra six bucks (totally worth it; it's not like I could leave them and drive around with my sunglasses on all day--or night). He also gave them a chemical clean. Voila--good as new three years old.

So I dodged a metaphorical bullet today; as much as I want contacts, it's not like I could just tank an entire teaching day to have an eye exam and get all that stuff set up. Sure, it would be nice if things like this happened when it was convenient, but at least I've bought myself a bit of time.

And now for the weather: This morning--up to five inches of rain with chilly temperatures. Now (early afternoon)--sun's coming out, warming up nicely. Gotta love Texas...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

In My Book, This Policy Lacks Some Serious Ammunition

I read an editorial yesterday by a local writer named Dawn McMullan, who encouraged the city of Dallas to join other municipalities in banning the sale and possession of toy guns that don't look obviously fake--meaning ones that weren't either brightly-colored or transparent. No problem here; that seems like a common-sense policy in today's world. But one paragraph really struck me:
Now, no child in Dallas has been shot because he or she was carrying a toy gun. But other youngsters haven't been so lucky. A 17-year-old boy in Harlem. A 10-year-old boy in Memphis. A 16-year-old boy in Las Vegas. A 13-year-old mentally challenged boy in San Francisco.

These were all young people carrying replicas of guns that were so realistic that police officers couldn't tell the difference. The officers shot all of them. They were doing their job of protecting.

In such situations, it probably was easy to be confused.
This brings up a question that I've had for years, but I guess that, until now, I haven't thought about it much when it was time to write a blog post: Why do police officers shoot to kill?

Seriously, I'd like to know the logic behind it. And I'm not necessarily talking about situations where someone is holding another person hostage or is in the process of robbing a bank or has already shot at an officer; I'm talking about a situation where an officer happens upon a person who has an object that looks like a gun, or maybe even has some other sort of weapon, like a knife. Especially when that person is a kid. Why shoot to kill? This is a situation that has happened more than a few times in the Metroplex in the time that I've lived here, and I've never understood it.

Here's how I see it: If the officer sees someone with a weapon, especially if it's not pointed directly at the officer, the objective should not be to kill the person. It should be to knock them down. Then that person can be taken into the criminal justice system, where an investigation and possible trial can determine what happened. But if the officer kills the person right away, he or she is acting as the judge, jury and executioner, and that's not how our system of justice is set up in this country....and to me, that goes double when the person involved is a juvenile.

As I said before, I'm not much of a gun guy to begin with, but this is something that's always troubled me. Any enlightenment from someone with experience in this area would be appreciated.

IN THE COMMENTS: I'm not getting very much support for my position so far, but I defend myself by invoking this 2001 story where Secret Service agents successfully used the shoot-to-knock-down procedure to apprehend a man who tried to scale the White House wall.

Today's lesson? How not to be a sitting duck: In one of last week's posts, we talked about the Wisconsin proposal to arm teachers. Now Dr. Helen reports that students in the Ft. Worth suburb of Burleson are learning how to defend themselves in case a gunman takes over their school. (And does it make me a hypocrite to think this is a good idea and that police automatically shooting to kill is a bad idea? Not to my mind; those are two completely different situations.)

At least the agents didn't shoot her: A Calfornia teenager found out that writing "Kill Bush" on her MySpace site wasn't the greatest idea; should she really have been shocked when FBI agents came to her school to talk with her?

Hallelujah for the wet stuff: When's the last time anyone here in the Metroplex can remember it raining all day? And there's more in store for tomorrow...

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Tower of Not-So-Power

I was not surprised when I read a few days ago that Tower Records is closing its doors forever (the sale started today); it really is a sign of the times. (It is a shame, though, that the bankruptcy judge refused to award the chain to a slightly lower bidder who would have closed only a few of the stores; even Tower's creditors were in favor of doing this.)

I always enjoyed going to Tower when it first opened in the Dallas area. It's not exactly in my backyard, but it's mere blocks from Uptown, where my sister and brother-in-law used to live about a decade ago, so I was down there a lot. Unlike most of the big chains, it had a rather impressive selection of things, especially in the jazz area, which is woefully underrepresented in many such stores. I enjoyed checking out new stuff at the lstening stations, and I appreciated its local music section. I could spend hours in the place.

But the thing was, even then, I didn't often buy very much there, unless it was on sale. With list prices of $16.99 to $18.99 for most CD's, Tower was a little rich for my blood. Sometimes, there'd be something for a good price, and on occasion, I'd pay the premium price just to get something that I literally couldn't find anywhere else. But more often than not, I'd listen to something new at Tower and then wait until it showed up at CD Source or CD Warehouse to buy it at half that price; the arrival of made my trips to Tower even fewer and farther between.

And I'm sure that downloads provided the final nail in the coffin. Even though I now have a computer with decent storage space and CD-burning capability, I haven't bought all that much stuff off download sites yet, because to me, there's still something about the tangibility of a CD that appeals to me. Maybe the fact that I've lost two iTunes libraries in computer crashes is preventing me from seeing a downloaded CD as something permanent yet, but I also just like reading the liner notes, looking at the cover art, etc.

The article also notes that the major labels (or, as I call them, The Machine) are in the process of taking a similar hit, which, as I've said, is generally fine with me; it's time to turn control of the creative industry back to the creators. Still, it makes me pause for a moment; a visit to the Big Record Store, something to which I'd looked forward since I was a little kid, is passing into memory now. I wonder if I'll go downtown and check out the sale...

Tag, you're it: Check out this spoof on a clothing label; it's very funny, but definitely only for the single, or those who wish to be.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Schools to Food Police: Bug Off!

I was amused and impressed by an article I read in the paper this morning; it discussed how some local school districts are sacrificing portions of their government funding in order for their cafeterias to serve food that students actually like to eat:
State rules cut portion sizes, fat and sugary snacks in schools to curb skyrocketing child obesity rates two years ago. Schools that violated those restrictions forked over $54,000 last year in lost funding and face higher penalties this year.

But a handful of wealthy school districts have rejected the rules altogether in some high schools, saying student choice and healthier cafeteria budgets outweigh efforts to force teenagers to eat right.

Allen, Frisco, Carroll, Coppell and, most recently, Plano are among the districts that give up government money for high school cafeterias for freedom from the food police.

They offer what they say older kids demand – the good and the bad – to make ends meet.

And in response, business is booming.
In many cases, these schools have ended up making considerably more money in revenue than they give up by violating the Food Police Rules:
In the Frisco district, the decision was a no-brainer, said Child Nutrition Director Lena Wilson.

"We looked at the cost," she said. "We would lose more money by adopting those restrictions than we would get in reimbursements."

The nutrition department made a $109,000 profit in 2003-04 from selling just four items: candy bars, sports drinks, extra-large cookies and large muffins.

It forfeited $81,000 in federal reimbursements that year.
. And no, it's not that everything should revolve around profit, but rather that people should have a few more choices than the government regulations allow. Go down to the bottom of the article linked above and you'll see what I mean; it contains a table of the various "offenses" that caused districts to forfeit some of their federal funding. (To name a few: "Elementary teacher gave students fruit drinks for lunch," "Cookies too large," "portion size violation," "sales of Skittles," and my personal favorite, "Gummi bears shared by student." Oh, brother...)

Granted, a lot of "experts" are none too happy about these renegade districts:
LeAnn Kridelbaugh, a physician nutrition specialist at Children's Medical Center Dallas, said schools should not compromise student health to stay afloat financially.
"I'm sure they could make a lot of money selling cigarettes in the schools, too," she said.
Obesity rates for adolescents have tripled since 1980 and doubled for younger children. Even older students need to be protected from themselves sometimes, Dr. Kridelbaugh said.
Whoooooooa. Hang on. Stop everything for a second. The government has no business making laws that "protect people from themselves." Provide for the national defense, give some incentive to "make the trains run on time," things like that....but protecting people from themselves? Uh-uh. Give people the information with which they can make intelligent, informed choices, but if they still don't....well, that's their own fault, and the government should keep its big nose out of it. It's time for a return to personal responsibilty in this country (does this make me a libertarian yet?), and that means no more suing McDonald's because you're fat.

So I say "bravo" to those renegade districts, because they're really doing their students a favor. After all, this is basically what it all comes down to in the schools, in the cafeteria and elsewhere: Teaching students to make good choices, but being aware that some people will not do so, and teaching them to live with the results of those choices. Otherwise, how are they ever truly going to learn?

Running Cat-fighting with scissors: A couple of Iowa teenagers are in trouble after they went after each other in a fit of haircut rage.

That's RWI for short: A woman in Georgia faces a charge of drunk driving...on horseback.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

If You Can't Stand the Heat...

...don't turn it on quite yet.

This will be the first truly cold night of the fall, thanks to the arrival of a Canadian cold front this morning. As I've said before, I'm not a really big fan of cold mornings, since I tend to hit a lot of extra snooze alarms on such days (and my tall-ceilinged bathroom never gets quite warm enough during a shower), but I don't think it's time to turn on the heat. For one thing, this is a short cold spell; tomorrow will be in the 70's, and the low returns to the upper 50's tomorrow night. (Besides that, the first night of heat always smells bad and tends to dry out the house more than usual, and I'm already fighting a dry mouth from my extra allergy medicine as it is.) It just doesn't make sense to flip on the heat for one night; I'll just turn off the ceiling fan in my bedroom and hope for the best.

Along those lines, there was a good discussion over at Althouse last week, where the good Professor was trying to encourage people to lower their thermostats not just to 68 degrees (as I've been doing the past two years to save energy), but to 62; she says it's also better for your health and helps prevent colds (though I'd like to think that my "secret weapon" in that area is the Vitamin C tablet that I take with my multivitamin each morning). Not everyone agrees with her, of course, but it made for a great topic of conversation. (I weigh in, late to the party, with the story of my college apartment with no thermostat at all, just an on-off switch.)

At any rate, I doubt it will get down to 62 in the house tonight, but I'm willing to take my chances and give the heater a raincheck for now.

NEXT MORNING UPDATE: Going heatless worked just fine; the house temperature was 71 degrees as I went to make breakfast. The fan in my room will go back on (using a lower setting) as I'm leaving the house today.

His GPS nearly made him a human lemming: An elderly German motorist trusted the global positioning system in his car so much that he drove through barricades and past signs clearly marked "road closed for construction." He ended up driving right off the road and into a pile of sand. At least there wasn't a cliff nearby...

Just in case Rover or Fluffy get carded at nightclubs: It's now possible to buy a replica of a drivers' license for your pet.

A small Fry story: Developers are about to release their final plans for Fry Street in Denton; local preservationists (and Tomato fans like myself) are hoping for the best.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Don't Worry, Be Observant

With the events of the past week, there's been a lot of attention given to violence in schools, and it's ceratin that some schools will overreact to this by going overboard on their security measures. But I'm encouraged by a column from Joshua Benton in this week's Dallas Morning News that reminds everyone to put things in perspective:
Sometimes the best service the media can provide is a simple message.

Stay calm. Things aren't that bad.

Whenever newspapers and the networks report on a school shooting – much less a mini-spree of them – the temptation is to think that the world is spiraling out of control.

The cable news networks start frothing for ratings. Up go the on-screen graphics – open-ended fear-mongering like "Is your child in danger?"

Self-appointed school-security experts – looking to make a buck as consultants – start e-mailing reporters about the urgent threat to America's children.

And legislators, eager for five minutes with Nancy Grace, start overreacting and throwing around dumb ideas.

Everybody wins – except for anyone who wants to point out the truth. Which is that violence in schools has plummeted over the past decade.
And indeed, if Benton's facts are correct, he does have a good point:
School shootings are extremely rare. There are roughly 125,000 schools in America. If you had 10 Columbines a year – many more than there actually are, of course – you could expect your kid's school to be hit roughly once every 12,500 years.

[...]In this country, you're more than 50 times more likely to be struck by lightning than you are to die in a school shooting. But strangely, Nancy Grace doesn't spend much time on the threat from above.
("Lightning: Is your child in danger?")
Read the whole thing. Benton provides several examples of the ridiculous results of that badly-thought-out "zero tolerance" legislation, a subject on which I've spoken before.

I'm not nearly ready to get into the specifics of my own situation (and may never do so on this blog, at least until the day that I'm a full-time college professor and no longer involved with the public schools), but let's just remember that, as with so many things in life, it's all about balance. Should schools be watchful of who's on campus? Of course. Teachers with badges? Sure--we've been doing that for years in my neck of the woods. Students with badges? Not a problem. But let's not follow the advice of the guy I heard on the radio a day or two ago who wanted to put a metal detector in every entrance to every school; that would pretty much bring the process of education to a screeching halt. As for the idea to arm teachers? I've weighed in on it at the original post.

And one more thing--I'm pretty sure it was on Ernie and Jay where I heard this idea, and I think it deserves some thought: Part of the problem with these high-profile serial school killings (or those of any kind, for that matter) is that it brings undeserved publicity to the killers. "The public's right to know" be damned--I say let's not release the name of the killer in situations like this, just like they don't release the names of rape victims (for another good, but completely different reason). If it would stop one person from "going out in a blaze of glory" if they knew that the world would never know their name, then perhaps this is an idea whose time has come.

Let me echo Benton one more time: Stay calm. Things aren't that bad.

Will it be called GooTube, or Yougle? As you probably know by now, Google is buying YouTube for a cool $1.65 billion. Co-founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen are the new Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner; I wonder how long it'll be before one of them buys a sports team...

Speaking of new names: To raise money for his family (as well as an orphanage), a U,S. Marine is auctioning off his naming rights to the highest bidder.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

No Football Player Left Behind

I have quite a few things to post about this week, many of which (unsurprisingly) are about one of my pet issues, education. But this email I received tonight has to go to the front of the line:
For all educators, in or out of the system …

NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND - The Football Version

1. All teams must make the state playoffs and all MUST win the championship. If a team does not win the championship, they will be on probation until they are the champions, and coaches will be held accountable. If after two years they have not won the championship their footballs and equipment will be taken away UNTIL they do win the championship.

2. All kids will be expected to have the same football skills at the same time even if they do not have the same conditions or opportunities to practice on their own. NO exceptions will be made for lack of interest in football, a desire to perform athletically, or genetic abilities or disabilities of themselves or their parents.


3. Talented players will be asked to workout on their own, without instruction. This is because the coaches will be using all their instructional time with the athletes who aren't interested in football, have limited athletic ability or whose parents don't like football.

4. Games will be played year round, but statistics will only be kept in the 4th, 8th, and 11th game.

It will create a New Age of Sports where every school is expected to have the same level of talent and all teams will reach the same minimum goals. If no child gets ahead, then no child gets left behind.

If parents do not like this new law, they are encouraged to vote for vouchers and support private schools that can screen out the non-athletes, preventing their children from having to go to school with bad football players.
Heh, that's amazing. If I were in charge of things, NCLB would be outta here, and its wretched offspring, the TAKS test, would simply be used for the purpose designated by its second word--an assessment, and nothing more. But that's another post for another time; until then, I hope you got a laugh out of the above.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


That little figure, in a box score from last night's UNT homecoming game, should say it all. That's right, our homecoming game, against Florida International (who?) took seven overtimes to complete before the Mean Green finally prevailed, 25-22. It was the first time in school history (except during their brief time in Division I-AA) that a UNT game had gone into overtime; we were the last school who had not previously done that.

The overtime part was actually more successful--and interesting to watch--than the game itself, which went slowly in regulation (the Green were up by a baseballish 5-0 at the half). After a while, it started to become funny as the teams swapped missed field goals, but UNT senior kicker Denis Hopovac came through in the end. All told, it took around four-and-a-half hours to complete the game, and then they had a short fireworks show (phone-cam picture will be posted here eventually). All in all, it was cool to go back for homecoming, and this is a game that won't soon be forgotten.

Also in sports: It's happened again--a new father has named his son ESPN (and the mom is OK with the idea).

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Stranded at Home

For the second time in my life, I'm stuck in my own house because of garage door issues. As I tried to leave this morning, I pressed the button to open the door as I always do, but this time, it became stuck halfway up the track; several wheels would subsequently come off the track as well.

This basically means that I can't go anywhere; the door isn't up enough for the car to clear it, and even if I could get the car out, it's not as though I'm going to just leave the house all day with the door halfway open (not to mention the fact that I'm also gone tomorrow for most of the day and that repair places probably don't work on Sundays). So here I am, missing a rehearsal that was supposed to start ten minutes ago, and the garage door guy can't come till about noon.

I should mention that the previous time was far worse, because I had to miss a Joe Lovano concert in Dallas that was 1) free and 2) featured him accompanied by local legends, the Earl Harvin Trio. Back then, I was still in my rental house, and the experience with the door was one of the main factors that prompted me to buy a house at the end of that summer. I was eventually able to get the door open manually (but not until the concert was over), but after a while, it wouldn't even open that way, and I had to park in the driveway for the remainder of the summer. The landlord wouldn't fix the door because they'd "just spent too much money" on a termite treatment a few months before, and I knew it was time to become a homeowner at that point. But I still wish I hadn't missed that concert...

So hopefully the guy will get here on time and I'll be able to at least catch the afternoon portion of my rehearsal. And I'm just glad that this didn't happen last night on the way to my gig (which went well, by the way).

UPDATE: The door guy got here early, and it's just a bit after 12:30 now and I'm free from my "captivity." The repair only set me back a C-note (*whew*).

Don't try this at home: A man drove his car 310 miles in reverse in the Australian outback after his forward gears failed.

My favorite headline of this extended morning at home: Tattooed teacher teaches tolerance.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Principal Is Packin'?

I won't have an awful lot of time to blog this weekend, because every waking minute of every day is spoken for until about 7 p.m. on Sunday. But I did read an interesting article last night that could serve as a good discussion topic: Should teachers and principals carry guns?. A Wisconsin legislator thinks so.

Feel free to discuss, and I'll chime in with my own opinion when I"m done with everything this weekend (though I'll tell you up front that I've always been a complete fence-sitter on the whole gun thing).

UPDATE: I've done a lot of reading on this subject, which is being discussed in many different places. As I've said before, I've always been a fence-sitter on the gun subject; I doubt I'd ever have one in my own house, but I'm pretty supportive of the rights of others to defend their own homes in this manner, providing proper precautions are taken. But I think that, for the moment, my take on the matter echoes some of the commenters to this post at Althouse, where several people have proposed the idea that, while teachers shouldn't by any means be required to be armed, that option should be available to those with the proper police-style training. That's where I stand for now.

Oh, and come see my gig tonight if you're in the area.

Float for aye: Happy Founders Day to my fraternity, Sinfonia, a fine brotherhood of musicians that's been here for 108 years today.

This guy was full of it: A man has apologized for flinging some crap around (literally) during a recent courtroom hearing.

Another old wives' tale exposed: No matter what you may have seen in the movies, it turns out that using a tourniquet on a snake bite is a really bad idea.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Jazz 1, Smooth 0

I was quite happy to read in the paper yesterday that the Oasis is no more, the smooth "jazz" radio station here in Dallas (and yes, my quotation marks are exactly where I want them to be) has been replaced with something called "rhythmic hits" of the '80s to the present (as opposed to those hits that have no rhythm at all, I suppose). According to the article,
"We're in the business of serving as many listeners as possible with a format," says Kurt Johnson, vice president of programming for CBS Radio in Dallas. "While The Oasis had many loyal fans for many years, it simply wasn't reaching the audience we need to reach."
I tend to see this as encouraging; I'm not sure that the collective musical taste in the area is improving, but at least they're not listening to that anymore. Granted, I suppose that one could argue that the smooth stuff could become a "gateway" to more intricate instrumental music, but I'm just not sure that listening to the Oasis really steered all that many people toward actual jazz.

(Yes, I refuse to call the smooth stuff "jazz" without the quotation marks. I'm sorry, but I just don't think that there's that much true improvisation going on. Also, with few exceptions [Chris Botti may be alone in this category] nobody in this genre ever performs with actual jazz musicians. I've always wished there was a better name for that genre; the original "New Age" scared listeners away because of its religious implications, and Yuppie Hot Tub Wallpaper Music (my preferred moniker) is just too big to fit on the shelf at the CD store. I suppose that "instrumental pop" would be the best name for this stuff.)

At least there will no longer be any confusion if someone is looking for a jazz radio station in Dallas; The One really has become the one now. Oh, and I love the quote at the beginning of the article: "The background music at your dentist's office may never be the same."

UPDATE: Eric weighed in on the subject yesterday, and his commenters weren't too happy about the change; I'm betting that most of mine will either say "meh" or "yay."

One other angle that I forgot to mention earlier is that the only thing I could say in the Oasis' favor was that it did provide some commercial sponsorship of "real" jazz concerts (especially free ones), and I'm not sure what will fill that void; KNTU certainly doesn't have the budget to do that.

Stupid criminal of the week: If you're going to court for a DWI hearing, it's best not to show up drunk.

Worst job performance of the week: If it's your first day on a new job babysitting a kid after he's done at daycare, it's best not to go to the daycare center and pick up the wrong kid.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Teaching the Teachers

A recent study points out what a lot of us have known for a long time: Teacher training at the college level is in a state of chaos:
The damning review comes from Arthur Levine, former president of Teachers College at Columbia University.

His report, released Monday, comes as public schools are under federal orders to have a qualified teacher for every class. It casts doubts on the most basic aspects of how teachers are taught. Teacher quality has a huge influence on whether students pass or fail.

The coursework in teacher education programs is in disarray nationwide, the report says. Unlike other professions such as law and medicine, there is no common length of study or set of required skills.

Then there are a host of other problems: low admissions standards, disengaged college faculty, insufficient classroom practice and poor oversight, according to Levine's study.

"Teacher education right now is the Dodge City of education: unruly and chaotic," said Levine, who now heads the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. "There's a chasm between what goes on in the university and what goes on in the classroom."
The study was done under the umbrella of something called the Education Schools Project, which is devoted to improving teacher education.

I think the problem is even more complicated than that, because there's one thing not mentioned in the article: whether an overabundance of "teaching people how to teach" classes are even a good idea in the first place. Having gone through an undergraduate music education program that required us to take around 12-15 credit hours from the "regular" education department, I can't say that I was impressed with any of our required classes (and yes, I realize that part of my sentiment could be derived from the fact that music is taught very differently from most other subjects, so there was a definitive issue of relevance there).

The main problem was that so much of those classes were filled with the generic trendy psychobabble of the day and contained very little practical information or experience. By far, the best things I learned about teaching were in the classes where we actually had to teach someone something, but the vast majority of those moments took place in the music building and not the education one.

I understand that they've added a communications class to the degree plan since I graduated, and I think that's a great idea, because someone could be the most brilliant person at his or her subject matter, but that brilliance would be greatly diminished if the person couldn't effectively impart that knowledge to the class. But otherwise, I think far less time should be spent on "teaching how to teach" and much more time spent on making future teachers into true experts in their chosen subject matter.

As always, comments are welcome.

Not just a stupid criminal, but a lazy one too: A man charged with burglarizing a house in California was caught by the homeowner when he stayed there long enough to do some laundry and order a pizza.

This might well work, but it wouldn't win any popularity contests: A city council member in Charleston, South Carolina came up with a, well, unique answer to the problem of juvenile delinquency--if the kids won't behave, then sterilize their parents

Belated candles: Happy birthday yesterday to Shawn. Apologies for the tardiness; I was enjoying the Fair Day holiday so much that I didn't manage to either blog or check my calendar--d'oh.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

After the Boys of Summer Have Gone

I got to catch the very end of the Rangers' season this afternoon--the last few innings on the radio on my way home from an alumni metting, and then the final at-bat for the Rangers on TV. There's no doubt that this season was a disappointment, considering how well things had been going before the All-Star break (hmm, we've heard this before). And while I think I've joined the camp that believes the Rangers would be better off with someone besides Buck Showalter as manager (it's not hard to buy into the idea that a slightly "looser" managerial style would play better in the dog days of summer), there's no guarantee that this will happen.

On a personal note, I was disappointed that I didn't get to use all the ticket vouchers (an annual Christmas gift) this season, but one look at next year's schedule reveals that I'll be able to use a lot of them on a single day in '07; it turns out that they're playing a game on my birthday! I haven't had a Baseball Birthday Bash in about five years, so that'll be fun.

As I've noted before, I'm a huge baseball fan; I think it reflects many of the things that are good about America, and it can even be compared to jazz. I really miss it during the half of the year when it's not being played. Can't wait till April!

Defending Junior: I also wanted to use this post to reply to a comment from regular reader Gary P. from a few weeks ago, to a post where I congratulated Gary Matthews Jr. on hitting for the cycle. Gary P. writes:
Ugh! Matthews is 31 years old and never done anything like this before. The performance just screams FLUKE SEASON, and he's going to make some team very unahppy when he most likely returns to his career norms next year. I just hope it's not Texas (or Boston).

For all the airtime given that one wall-climbing catch, the defensive rating schemes that use play-by-play data tend to rate him quite a bit below average at turning balls hit to CF into outs.... the primary complaints being that he gets a slow break and doesn't take good routes. has a list of the ten most similar players to Matthews through age 30, and what they did the rest of their careers. Only one played more than 283 games for the rest of their careers, and that one was also the only one to be an above-average hitter for the rest of their careers.

Here's my take: If you don't like the way Matthews plays, that's fine, but I for one am skeptical of putting that much stock in the statistics of previous similar players to predict what another player will do. I'll wait for another post to fully expound on this subject, but let's say that, to me, using samples to predict what a populaton will do is hogwash to me; it's why I abandoned my Ph.D quite some time ago (OK, that, and the fact that my next degree really needs to be in the jazz studies area and not music education), because that course of study relies too heavily on that methodology.

So if you're not a GMJ fan, that's fine, but if I were Tom Hicks and Jon Daniels, I would'nt just look at the statistics (or their cousins, "lies" and "damn lies") but also at how Matthews' play energized his teammates and probably helped put people in the seats (an area in which the team otherwise lost ground this year).

But hey, no big deal in the grand scheme of things--me likey, you no likey. It always makes for good discussion 'round these parts.

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday Dingus!