School Start Dates

At the present time here in Iowa we are experiencing a debate over when the school year should start. Unfortunately it has become politicized to the point that no one seems to be able to think straight.

It would seem that the major concern of school systems over the school start date is that student’s scores on testing will decline if tests are taken after winter break. Being of the old school of teaching three things immediately come to mind. First, if the students forget the material in two weeks they didn’t learn it in the first place. Second, If they did learn it and they can’t pass the test over the material after two weeks then the test was either poorly written or included such minutia that it didn’t really matter if they learned it anyway. Arcing over both of these points is the absolute truth that for many children not all learning takes place in school.

It is a terrible indictment of our schools that the driving force behind so many of our educational decisions are test driven rather than driven by real learning. It is not a coincidence that as the government gets more involved with education that the test scores have declined further. When did the decline in test scores begin to occur? What was the causative factor?

Get the government out of the classroom and let the teachers teach and test scores will improve, until that happens, no matter when school starts, test scores will continue to decline.

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Faith, Hope, Reality and Despair at Walgreens

I received an e-mail yesterday saying my prescription was ready at Walgreens. I faithfully got in my car drove the 5 miles and after seeing 5 cars in the drive through, and knowing that at least one, had someone my age, who would be confused or argue with the window flunky that the prescription was too expensive I decided to go inside hoping to save a few minutes. Once inside passing by several inmates who had mistaken Walgreens for Wal-Mart I made it to the pharmacy counter hoping for a quick turn around. Upon reaching the counter I was filled with despair when I was told that the prescription they had e-mailed was ready, was not ready and it would be a few minutes. So I sat down wondering exactly what a few minutes meant but sure that it would be defined by my stay. I sat down in the “comfortable” plastic chair they so kindly provided in the waiting area, I sat in the faith that they would indeed fill the prescription in a few minutes. 27 minutes later, my hope almost gone after listening to 12 adults who had just been breathing on me pick up prescriptions for anti-biotics and while sitting next to 4 obviously sick kids I still had hope that I would get the prescription rather than something that required a new prescription. Now after you have sat for 27 minutes the issue becomes that you have already spent 30 minutes plus drive time. Should you leave in despair of ever being served or wait another 5 minutes and if you wait another 5 minutes would not logic indicate that you should stay another 5 minutes after that until you get what you came for. Reality sets in so you decide to set up an artificial zero tolerance guideline. You decide that the guy in the leather jacket is your limit, currently 5th in line behind two people who should have known better than to buy a North Slope jacket in that size. You think I’ll let fate decide, if he gets to the cash register before they call my name your leaving and so he made it to the cash register and I left facing the reality that tomorrow was another day and that they probably called my name just as I opened my car door outside. I wonder is this an allegory or parable for my life or simply how infectious diseases actually spread.

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Teen-wolf, A parable in too many words

The young wolf was concerned. He had noticed that the alpha female was ignoring him and the alpha male spent most of his time making the young wolf’s life a living hell. Slashing, taking his food, snarling when he came close. The rest of the pack was following the lead of the alpha wolf, because that was the way of wolves and to do otherwise was too dangerous socially to contemplate. The pack wolves had learned through experience that conflict with the alpha would lead to banishment, injury or even death. As it was winter the young wolf both literally and physically felt the alpha and the rest of the wolves giving him the cold shoulder coming between him and the food and social contact wolves innately crave. He was aware of the situation even though he did not exactly know its cause.
Wolves are a social animal they live and work together as one. It seems a foundational need and skill for wolves to be with other wolves. Every animal is a piece of the dynamic whole. But wolf packs are not a democracy running on consensus they are a despotic monarchy that runs largely on fear, the alpha male/female or both make the decisions, eat first and control the rest of the pack with slashing claw and intimidating growl. Communication between members runs through and is controlled by the alphas. It is sometimes said that in order to understand the actions and the personality of the pack you must simply observe the actions of the alpha wolf.
The young wolf was at first confused by the aggressive actions of the alpha and could feel that the rest of the wolves in the pack were following suit even as he became aware that he must have done something to offend the alpha. He understood pack dynamics and had participated in the past in driving unwanted pack members from the fold, pack members driven out because they were the wrong color, wrong size, lacked intelligence, were disabled, or had simply offended the alphas in some way. He knew that the process was slow but inexorable, as the control of the alpha was exerted more and more the position of the offending wolf became more and more tenuous in the pack. The young wolf was relegated to the rear of the pack, given no respect even from those who were lower in the pack pecking order, he soon noticed that the only communication he received from any of the pack was in the form of snarls and disrespect.
The young wolf had a decision to make, he could stay, fight, snarl and attack back, in the hope that the pack would change but he knew from experience that was very unlikely as it was 1 against many and as long as the alphas were in charge. He could strike out on his own, going against the very nature of wolves and become a lobo or lone wolf a wolf without support social contact, or anyone to aid him should there be trouble or lastly he could begin searching for another pack who would accept him as a member. All of these pathways were fraught with danger. He thought if I stay they will destroy me either mentally, physically or both. He then worried that If I strike out on my own I may be too weak to thrive in a different, sometimes harsh and tumultuous world. Just as the young wolf was thinking these thoughts he heard for the first time, because normally his own pack made so much noise it was impossible to hear anything else, in the distance the sounds of another pack, different in some ways, but in many ways, much the same. Together they were praising the moon in many new and different voices. He had never actually heard these voices before because he was too busy listening to the voices of his own pack. He considered the pack sleeping together from his place just at the edge of the pack and realized they had lost his respect by their refusal to give respect, his decision had already been made for him. He got slowly to his feet. Looking back just once he trotted off in search of a better place, a new pack, a place where he might be accepted for what he was, not what he was not. As he trotted away slowly from the past and the only home he had ever known, sadly leaving what had been his best friends, in search of his own future, he slowly but carefully blocked each and every one of his old pack from his mind and his cell phone.

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Pumpkin Pie and the Future of America

When pumpkin pie was invented it was more like apple pie. The pumpkin was peeled, sliced and baked in a crust and eaten not for its palatability but largely as a prevention for scurvy. Later in history it was stewed, pureed and spiced to give it the modern flavor. In the last 100 years things have changed for pumpkin pie. Pumpkin pie used to be hard work, growing, harvesting, peeling, seeding, cooking pureeing. Making the crust out of lard and flour (I would guess a large number of you reading this have no idea how a pie crust is made)

When I was a kid the high point of Thanksgiving sadly was not dinner with the relatives, it was the tablespoon of real whipped cream centered perfectly on the one slice of pumpkin pie you were going to get to eat. You carefully ate around the little dab of whipped cream saving it for several tiny bites at the end when you could savor it fully. Pumpkin pie is not sweet by today’s standards and most kids today will only eat it because it comes covered with sweetened fully hydrogenated coconut and palm kernel oil , commonly called cool whip. Often times kids are observed today eating only the Cool Whip garnish and leaving the pie abandoned on the plate awaiting the whirling knives of the garbage disposal. Perhaps my appreciation of pumpkin pie is a result of the totally unfair sugar deprivation I suffered in childhood due to my parents. Deserts just didn’t happen except for occasional ice cream in the summer, pie at thanksgiving and Christmas cookies. It may indeed be true that absence makes the heart grow fonder.

The downfall of pumpkin pie as a tradition started with frozen pie crusts and Reddi-whip. I am sure that many of you have never made a pie crust and in fact would have no idea how to do so. Indeed there is an art to making a good crust. Foremost , a good crust is made using lard ( another thing many of you have never seen) but it takes a special tool, time, and a good feel as well. I can make a passable crust but my mother-in -law had the skill which reached its pinnacle in her rhubarb pies. Sadly, even she at the end found that buying the crust was a lot easier than spending ½ an hour making it.
Many years ago pumpkin pie flavor was not as uniform as it is today each cook bought canned pumpkin or stewed and pureed their own and added the nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, sugar, ginger, eggs, milk or cream, and cloves to their own taste so every pie was a new savory ( at times unsavory) surprise based on the cook. Later the stores started making pumpkin spice and allspice and the flavor of the pies began to become the same ol same ol.

Now to that hydrogenated coconut and palm kernel oil. Cream doesn’t come as a solid it must be made into one by the application of force. Now an electric mixer is used but some years ago the cream was whipped using an egg beater by hand. Not too stiff and not to liquid, supervision was required while forced labor (the kids) whipped the cream. Too much and you ended up with butter, too little and you ended up with a watery mess.
So you were wondering when I was going to get to the point? Pumpkin pie was valued for its scarcity and the hard work that was put into it, but the final reward for eating the pie was that you worked your way through the pretty good stuff on the outside to get to real good stuff, the tablespoon full of whipped cream in the very center savoring that magically flavored moment that made the rest of the pie worthwhile.

Today we seem to start to often at the good end and quit before we work our way all the way through. In short we want the topping but not the pie. We used to make our own pumpkin pie, now we only use it. Libby makes the pumpkin, Pillsbury makes the Crust, Kraft makes the topping and Alcoa makes the pan so we don’t even have to clean up our own mess. The foundation, the soul of the pie, the love and work that went into it, is often forgotten as consuming the fluff on top becomes the most important thing, consumption that too often leaves the reality and value of pie making behind.

This entire piece was hypocritically written while eating the next to the last piece of Thanksgiving pumpkin pie made from store bought pumpkin pie mix resting in a Pillsbury crust entombed in Cool Whip. But even so I long for the joy and anticipation that the little dab of whipped cream in the middle of a piece of pumpkin pie used to give me. Evidence that little things were very important before we had so much, I wish it could be so again.

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Let Slip The Dogs of War

Shakespeare once again proves his prescience. I saw the phrase , “ Cry Havoc,” and let slip the dogs of war” on facebook referring to the rightfully celebrated American Veterans Day tomorrow and was refreshing my memory of the context when I found that I was familiar with the Shakespearian phrase, “ Cry Havoc” and let slip the dogs of war” but that I had lost the context This phrase is often used to praise or urge war. In Julius Caesar some of the lines immediately preceding “ Cry Havoc,” are:
“Blood and destruction shall be so in use
And dreadful objects so familiar
That mothers shall but smile when they behold
Their infants quarter’d with the hands of war
All pity choked with custom of fell deeds”……

And the lines following:

…….“That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial”

I am aware he was speaking of the death of Caesar and its after affects but the lines preceding, Cry Havoc” seem to me to describe our world of virtual reality and too often real war and the lines following the results we to often seem to not see or hear.

Ironically the ultimate purpose of war is peace, Lincoln understood that, I am not sure any president or government since Lincoln has understood that simple goal.

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Election Reform

Rich’s ideas for reforming the election system in the United States, some whimsical, some impractical, some deadly serious.

1. National elections will be spread over two days and every employee in America will receive one shift off during one of those days as a paid holiday.
2. All national offices will be for one 6 year term with one third of the offices being filled every two years. This would not preclude running for a different political office but would not allow more than one term in any particular office.
3. Every statewide/national race will include the option to vote for, “ none of the above” if none of the above receives at least 33% of the votes neither of the candidates may run again for that office and a special election will be held within 45 days with new candidates.
4. Every state will have one state supported debate (state will pay costs and for air time on all public broadcast stations) where the candidates must answer the question asked as judged by a panel of moderators before they may speak again during the debate. Yes and no questions will not be allowed to avoid questions such as , “ have you stopped beating your wife?”
5. Each political ad must identify a website that explains the methodology of any numbers or statistics used and/or the complete context of any opposing candidates quotations used including the paragraph preceding and following that from which the quote was taken
6 Each political ad run by any organization not directly controlled and funded by a candidates election committee would be required to donate an amount equal to the cost of the advertising to a state or federal pool to be divided equally amongst any other certified candidates running for that same office.
7. Any one organization, corporate, union or individual would be limited to one million dollars worth of “ free speech” donations
8. A viable third party would be created in each state funded by 10 million federal dollars for the first 5 years of existence and will be called, “The Third Party.”
9. All primary elections /etc. would be held on the same day or during the same week nation-wide.
10. All political advertising outside of the 90 days before any election would be subject to the same rules as # 6 above.
11. Political parties may be placed on the , “ do not call “ list by concerned citizens. All unsolicited political flyers may be returned, postage due to the originating party.
12. All political ads must include full disclosure of risks of voting for that candidate, just like drug ads.
13. Any elected official traveling to a state other than their home state would be required to reimburse any travel expenses if any fund raising activities take place on that trip.
14. All candidates would be required by federal and state law to divulge where the income on their federal return came from but not the amount.
15. Adopt a parliamentary political system in lieu of all of the above.

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Teen-age Girls and What They Wear to School

#1 I agree that teen-age girls should be able to wear anything that reasonably covers their body to our schools and that they should be able to do so safely and without fear of harassment (although I have taught in schools were uniforms were required and found that it has a positive and calming effect on the whole student body – pun not intended but a nice one all the same)

#2 The modern media, psychologists and university professors have made a point of emphasizing that teenagers, particularly teen-age boys, do not always make good choices, lack impulse control and that we must cut them some slack (although it seems to me that 40 years ago they were capable of making good choices, perhaps because back then we did not cut them very much slack)

#3 Teenagers with an overabundance of estrogen/testosterone/ and curiosity, are often found in close proximity to each other (sometimes in the dark), are constantly exposed to a world where sexual activity is promoted, accepted, and used to sell all ideas and items. Hormones, Curiosity, proximity,  and no impulse control can be a truly deadly triumvirate for teen-agers sometimes requiring great vigilance of, and intervention by, adults.

#4 Finally, few of us would rub raw meat all over ourselves or  our children  and then walk or send them  into a cage with a hungry notably impulsive grizzly bear.

#5 Review #2 through #4 and then see # 1

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