Saturday, March 11, 2023

Every Kid Needs a George

Our local NPR affiliate did a story on a recent study which showed that a third of 4th graders are not reading on grade level.  I listened for the first 5-10 minutes and then turned it off in frustration.  They started to go down the path of how our schools teach reading and why it has been producing this outcome.  The thesis was that, about 20 or so years ago, schools moved away from phonics instruction.

This is a popular notion right now as the education pendulum swings back toward phonics.  States are jumping on board the train.  Here in Utah, every K-3 teacher has been made to take part in a two-year program to get them on the phonics page – essentially, a college class for teacher’s evenings and weekends.

Underlying all of this phonics fervor is the mistaken notion that schools can instruct students into reading proficiency.  Contrary to the radio show thesis, I think schools made the mistake of thinking they could move students to proficiency without family involvement.  

It was about 20 years ago that I noticed a shift in the rhetoric at trainings and meetings.  If a teacher brought up strategies for how to get families involved with reading with students at home we were told, “We can’t control that, so let’s talk about the things we can control.”  Instruction of students became less of a partnership between home and school.  Over time, the responsibility shifted solely to the school.  A lot of parents took that as a signal that they could leave the work of educating their child to that building the child busses to each morning.  For many, education became a consumer item that one could write a check for and forget about. 

So, in a lot of American homes, kids just quit reading.  There is your third of students not reading on grade level.  The best instruction by the best instructors will not change that.

There is a slice of students who need intervention due to reading struggles… but, in my experience, that is not the issue with most underperforming readers.  These kids need time on the page and they are not getting it.  They need daily, one on one, time with an adult who reads with them.  Schools (for all of their best intentions) and states (with their expectations) cannot make up for that lack.

Let me give the example of George.  He was a (very) senior citizen who came to my former Title One school every day to read with kids.  He was not a reading specialist.  He was available and he read with one of my 6th-grade students almost every day.  

My student read at a 2nd-grade level.  She didn’t like to read because she was unsuccessful at it and because she was unsuccessful at it she didn’t like to read.  Most of my Title One students were stuck in this vicious circle.  Still, she was willing to read with George.

Over the months, her resistance to reading lessened.  She started carrying a book in her back pocket and I would catch her at recess reading under a tree.  By the end of the year, she was reading at a 4th-grade level.

Her success had nothing to do with my reading instruction (I had 37 students that year).  It was her daily time spent with a saint who somehow got from his downtown apartment to our building.  

Moving that struggling third cited in the radio show to grade-level is not going to come about due to instructional methods.  It will happen when our culture gets back to adults being available to read with kids.

Friday, March 03, 2023

Rare Things Happen All The Time

Almost every day, I hear believers thank a deity for some happy circumstance or coincidence.  The fact that they got the job that they wanted, or that parking spot, or a reduction on some bill, is evidence of divine assistance.


At one time, I too saw little evidences of my god all around me.  I tabulated a number of such things when convincing myself to move out to Utah twenty years ago.

But I have been out of the faith now for a decade.  The interesting thing is that just as many happy coincidences happen to me now as ever did.  In reality, every person, regardless of faith status, gets their share of good and bad happenstance.

I now see all of that dot-connecting as a desire for meaning.  It may be great that I got that job... but if GOD got me that job, then I am significant.  I matter. I am seen.

But, that kind of meaning is exterior... and as with all such forms that give one a sense of worth, that route is fleeting.  

Friends and family, jobs and money... even gods... can only serve as a band-aid.  Eventually, alone with your own thoughts, you have to create your worth and meaning.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Marvel and Ant-Man 3

I saw AntMan on Thursday and it was... fine -as so many things have been from Marvel of late.  I enjoyed the flick, had a few laughs, munched my popcorn.  I was entertained for those 2 hours.

But nothing in that movie made me want to go out and grab another ticket.

I have watched the scene below a dozen times.  It is an intense scene.  Dialogue and story are at the forefront and the actors are bringing it.

There are lots of comic movies now that demonstrate such scenes.  Batman and the Joker talking in the jail during Dark Knight.  Civil War.  Winter Soldier.  Logan.  X-Men.  Superman: The Movie.

Scenes where characters are talking about things that matter.

That is what gets me right back to the turnstile line after exiting the ride.

I was rewatching Robocop again today... cheesy... but so many great lines.

There was nothing like that in Ant-Man... no scenes I want to head back to the theater for.  No lines to ruminate over again and again.

Almost every scene of dialogue was just segueing us to the next CGI MacGuffin chase.

There was a lot to like about the latest Antman.  I would give it a B... but that seems to be the best Marvel is doing lately.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Potato Math

I usually don't buy kitchen items that do only one thing.  

We have a small kitchen... so, space is a premium.  Utensils have to earn their keep.

Generally speaking, I wouldn't buy an item like this... but they had it on such a good sale, I would not feel guilty if I used it once and threw it away.

However, combined with my air fryer, I use this thing all the time.

It makes perfect fries.

But this is dangerous.

Here is what I have discovered.

I would never, typically, down 4 or five potatoes.

However, press them through the fry-maker.  Add a dash of oil and spice.  Give them 16 minutes in the air fryer.  Add some fry sauce.

All of a sudden, I can put down 4-5 potatoes in a flash.

I thought the air fryer... and the fry cutter... were a step toward health.

I am now questioning these decisions.

Sunday, February 05, 2023

Me, Me, Me

Scrolling my newsfeed on Sunday morning often brings up a live church service in progress or a link to one.  Today I listened for a moment.  The same stuff I used to hear... but a critical ear changes so many things.

For example, this morning, the pastor quoted Oswald Chambers, who said that believers are often so devoted to their ideas about Jesus that they miss devotion to Jesus himself.

But all we have are ideas.  Believers can read the same text but walk away with very different ideas.  There are literally tens of thousands of Christian denominations.

So what does a statement, by a Pastor, encouraging a believer to doubt their ideas about Jesus accomplish?  Only the most open denominations would actually guide a congregant to deconstruct their beliefs... and this congregation was clearly Evangelical.

So what then?

It tills the ground for the Pastor's ideas about Jesus to be planted.  Whether explicitly or implicitly, the goal is to get the congregation on his page.  Like Smith in the 2nd Matrix movie, church leadership (with few exceptions) wants to replace your code with theirs.  Your ideas about God with their ideas.

And for many congregants, they understand that is the price of membership.  But just be clear that your ideas about God are being replaced with their ideas... but they are just ideas... and theirs carry no more inherent weight than yours.

Monday, January 30, 2023

A Relationship with Jesus

If you travel in Evangelical circles, you will often hear them say things like "Christianity isn't a religion, it's a relationship" or "I'm not religious, I have a relationship with Jesus".

But, of course, it is a religion and, no, it isn't a relationship.  I have always felt, even when I was a believer, that this sort of language was an attempt to set themselves apart from other religions and even those they consider lesser versions of Christianity.

Anyway, I wrote this as a comment on a thread some years back and I think it sums up why the word relationship, in this context, doesn't work -

I have personal relationships with real live persons. We talk, and the conversation occurs on both sides. We do stuff together and there is interaction.

If I think I have a relationship with someone because I have read their book, or heard their music, or looked at their art - that is only occurring in my head. I have watched many Quentin T. movies and listened to scores of interviews with him... so much so, it feels like I know him. But I don't and he doesn't know me. It is a flight of fancy to imagine otherwise.

When Christians state that they have a relationship with God, they are using that word in such a way that it is rendered meaningless. Even if we imagine for a moment that there is a god that made the universe and he wrote a book for us to read, we could appreciate his art and read his writings... but we still would not know him and we would not have a "relationship" with him.

It seems to me the best thing a Christian could say in this regard is that they are a Christian because they work at following the teachings and life of Christ.

Monday, January 16, 2023

HBO's The Last of Us

There has been a lot of hype over HBO's The Last of Us.

My take on episode 1.  First half great, 2nd half boring.

Mild spoilers ahead...

They did what I feared... they skipped the middle.

They start out with the introduction of the plague.  This is the $#!^ I find fascinating.  I want them to spend episodes... NAY!  A SEASON!... getting into the nuts and bolts of the infection.  How does it work, why is it spreading, how is science fighting it, and how is society dealing with it?  What happens as social and economic systems start to break down? There is so much story there.

But, like so many movies and series before it, we get quickly moved past all that and land in a future where folks are despondently walking about a landscape that nature is slowly recapturing.  Walking Dead skipped past all the good stuff too... and gave us season after season of folks wandering about running into worse and worse marauders and scavengers.  

I do hope this is not where the show is going... but the first episode for me had a great build-up and then a big let-down.

Back in the Box

"You need more faith!!"  is a common refrain in fundamental religious circles.  It is the cure shouted at every problem.  Issues of health, finances, questions about life... everything is about pushing you back into the framework.

To get back in, you have to have to cut off part of yourself.  Your pain, your questions, your desires... all have to be made smaller.

Over the decades, life gets more basic as they repeat the same verses, the same dictums.  Nothing new, no growth... just endless contraction.  The world looks stranger and stranger as it continues to grow and expand.  Eventually, the fundamentalist struggles to find good in anything or anyone outside their sect.

Teaching and Tacos

I often hear people say, "Kids are natural learners.  They are curious.  Just don't stand in their way!!"

Ummm, no.  SOME kids are natural learners.  Some are curious.  Others would just like to watch TV and eat tacos thank you very much.

I know this because if I only did what I WANTED to do... I would watch TV and eat tacos.

But, I have the self-discipline to know that path would make me obese and lonely... so I do other things and go to work.

Now, what is true is that most American classrooms are not meeting most kids' needs.  Some kids excel in academic disciplines.  They love bookwork.  They love to write.  They love to solve equations.

Others prefer movement.  They want to be outside.  They want to tear things, twist them, bend them, throw them.

Some folks love to be with people ALL DAY!  For others, an hour or two is MORE than enough.

Some kids have been reading voraciously since they were two.  They walk into 2nd grade on Harry Potter 4 and are starting to worry about what happens when they finish Deathly Hollows at the end of the month.

Others come in hoping that since they got through an entire Clifford book this week, they might be excused from reading for a while.

In our system, the Potter and the Clifford reader go to the same class because they have hit that magic age of 7.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen... your child's core curriculum for the year will be set, not by their motivation, not by their interest, not by their present level... but by how old they are.  

We just toss them all in together and wish those teachers the best of luck.  🙂

Saturday, January 07, 2023

A Teaching Blind Spot

This meme has stirred up some dust on the teacher page I got it from.  Lots of teachers are chastizing this dad for "lazy parenting".  They say if parents would just "model" good reading practices at home, then kids would "learn to love reading" instead of seeing it as something they need to be paid for.  As one person said, "If they are read to from infancy they will learn enjoying a book is natural and just fun."

I do not think this blind spot is exclusive to teachers but I think the potential for harm is more prevalent because it is coming from teachers.

It is a common human error to believe that someone is "missing out" if they do not enjoy what we enjoy.  In this diverse world, there are LOTS of things to enjoy.  Some folks invest their time in sports, others in music, some like to climb mountains, many apply brush strokes to a canvas.  

Even those interests have varied levels of dedication.  Interests also change.  I enjoy acting in plays but I have friends who LIVE for theater.  My interest in acting was stronger a few years ago than it is now and it may circle back again.

Still... it is just one of many interests... as is reading.

Fortunately, and unfortunately, most teachers are recreational readers.  As such, there is a blindspot in the profession that often assumes there is something amiss if a child does not enjoy reading.  It makes my job easier if they enjoy it... but it should not be viewed as a problem if they don't.

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