Thursday, January 12, 2012


Friday Fragments

The blogosphere has been atwitter (can I say that?) about the latest study showing the economic damage to students of leaving underperforming teachers in place.  Kevin Carey’s response strikes me as the most persuasive thus far.  In brief, he makes the point that choosing not to change is, itself, a choice.  Check it out.


Sign on door of store downtown: “Saturday: noon to close.”  Seems a bit abstract...


I had high hopes for Now You See It, by Cathy Davidson.  I’ve enjoyed her previous work, she writes well, and she has a great topic.  And parts of it were quite good.  (Her observation that students write better on their blogs than in their academic papers struck a chord; when I used to tutor in a writing center, I noticed that students who could write perfectly lucid notes or letters couldn’t write lucid papers.  In both cases, the issue is less “writing ability” per se than fluency in an unfamiliar genre.)  

Oddly enough for a book about “attention blindness,” though, Davidson doesn’t seem aware of the level of “look at me!” in her own writing.  She positions the book as a counterweight to claims of cultural decline, which is fine and good, but the anecdotes she strings together are all variations on “I met someone wonderful in a wonderful location, and heard something great, and then I went somewhere else and did the same thing!  Isn’t that great?”  By the time she devoted part of a chapter to her ex-husband’s Mom, it became a real struggle to keep reading.  I’m not sure what the writerly equivalent of “mugging for the camera” is, but that’s how it reads.  

Frustratingly, the Peripatetic Pollyanna stuff gets in the way of a nifty argument.  Davidson notes that we tend to see what we look for, and thereby to miss some promising possibilities.  Worse, we get so worked up with unnecessary anxieties about change that we fail to nurture new developments when they most need it.  Her history of cultural anxieties about “multitasking” is on-point, revealing, and witty; apparently, the hand-wringing over putting radios in cars in the early twentieth century rivaled the recent worries about cyber-distractions.  (The best moments in the book echo Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad is Good for You, which goes uncited.)  When she gets out of her own way, Davidson can be engaging and incisive.  Inside this often-annoying book is a brilliant kindle single screaming to get out.  I just wish she could have seen it.


The big news out of CES this year was “ultrabooks.”  Aside from the cheesy name, these strike me as wildly wonderful if they cost about half of what they cost.  For what they cost, not so much.  


Okay, this probably says more about me, but what SHOULD have been the big news out of CES was an actual replicator.  Yes, it’s version 1.0, but damn.  Give it a couple of iterations, and it could be a monster.  Draw a design, pour in the plastic, and presto, you have a prototype!  Add voice activation and a teakettle and I can do the full Picard.  (“Tea.  Earl Grey.  Hot.”)


That last one may have been a bit of oversharing.


I heard a rumor this week that Congress is considering making students who arrive at community college under the “ability to benefit” rules ineligible for financial aid.  (“Ability to benefit” allows students who don’t have a high school diploma or a GED a chance to test in.)  My first thought was that we can finally stop coddling all those independently wealthy high school dropouts.  Upon reflection, I guess the counterargument would be that they should get their GED’s first.  If Congress is willing and able to fund a robust GED preparation system -- adult basic education for all who need it -- then I withdraw my objection.  If not, I’m appalled.  


Poetry, by The Girl:

We sit on benches
we sometimes use wrenches
from our gear boxes
‘cause we’re hard-workin’ foxes!

She was completing a workbook assignment that asked her to use plurals that end in “-es.”  I’d give full credit for that...

Am I allowed to point out my perspective on Carey's claim?
Of course!
Thought I'd point out that that first link in incomplete. The "h" in "http" is missing :-)
The poem is great, DD!
The astute use of the word "foxes" give me pause. May your dear girl never lose her inspiration.
I do think we should take TG to a Poetry Slam. We'll dress her in a black turtleneck, black pants and black combat boots. Oh, and a beanie. She'll read her poem and show those angst-ridden "poets" how it's done, thank you very much.
I wasn't aware that CC's were being flooded by the independently wealthy high school dropout.

Kudos to your girl. By the time she's a teenager, you are really going to have a firecracker on your hands. (and she'll be driving)
They already have 'replicators'. I'm staring at one in our classroom right now. They are typically called 3-D printers, and they will build a prototype of a design by fusing layers of plastic powder ( One of our students drew an adjustable wrench and the printer made a fully working prototype (albeit made of plastic).
So "fox" is back in the vernacular for a beautiful woman? FANTASTIC!
What a great poem! I agree 100% with your financial aid statement.
You can't get your GED at 14; without the 'ability to benefit' clause, I would not be where I am today.

Semi related funny family story: 15 year old wants to take his GED to get the heck done with high school. It's not legal, but there's a clause where a judge can give an exemption, so he goes before the judge.
The judge: "well, young man, I generally don't make exceptions unless someone needs to make a living. Like if he has gotten a girl pregnant, for example."
15 year old guy: "Well, your honor, I hadn't planned on it, but if that's what I have to do..."

Judge let him take the GED.
I like the idea of an ultrabook although my netbook is pretty darned wonderful. 11" of screen space is plenty, especially when you work in a desk-free world!

As for the Tea, Earl Grey, Hot? I can sympathize, although I actually prefer English Breakfast or Orange Pekoe. If only Picard had been of the same mind!
@Becca: that's pretty classic.
I work in testing and proctor both the GED and Ability to Benefit. I wouldn't classify any of the ATB testers as independently wealthy high school dropouts- in fact, these students you describe tend to prefer the GED since it is an actual credential and not a single-purpose ticket for Financial Aid and college admissions.

Many people take the ATB because they can afford it.

When I first started my job in testing, I didn't understand the option. The VP explained to me that it is about increasing access- each students has different strengths, weaknesses, obstacles, etc. The ATB measures them in a unique way providing them with a chance. I will be discouraged if they take away this opportunity.
DD's joke is that there are very few "independently wealthy high school dropouts," so why would one bother to beat up a set of people who already have the deck stacked against them?

Of course, in today's America, the real answer is, "Because they're Americans, and that's what we do."
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