Things That Go Bump in the Mind

Things That Go Bump in the Mind
Look for a new post every Sunday morning.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

This First Cut is the Deepest: Getting Past Writer's Block

Polonius (upon seeing Hamlet engage in a book): What do you read my lord? Hamlet: Words, words, words. [Act 2, Scene 2]
     About half an hour north from where I live on my little ten acre homestead in rural Southeast Ohio, the local community college used to host an annual fair and trade show for foresters and lumberjacks. One of the regular features of this expo was an ongoing demonstration of wood sculptures carved entirely through the use of chainsaws. It was one of the displays that kept folks coming back year after year. No matter how many times I witnessed it firsthand, the intricacy of the detail that the carvers could achieve with such large, heavy, awkward, and dangerous equipment never failed to surprise and astonish. It wasn't magic, but it seemed like it. It was almost something you would have to see with your own eyes to believe: burly men swinging chainsaws with wild precision attacking huge logs to whittle out beautiful works of art. That artists can create beauty at all is a mystery worth careful consideration; that such beauty can be made with raucous implements that can devour human flesh as quickly as it can chew lumber moves our contemplation from an appreciation of the sublime to an admiration of the surreal.
     Not to put too fine a point on it, but I don't sling chainsaws; I sling words. Big fat clumsy words that are just as dangerous in their own ways as chainsaws but without the risk of immediate amputation.
A slip of a chainsaw can cause a wood-carver to lose part of a foot, but a poorly reasoned idea can wound a reputation for a lifetime. I don't really expect that anything I write will be discussed in the distant future, but if any of my views should somehow escape the black hole of obscurity from which I compose, I would want them to be good ideas. I suppose that is as much as any of us who write can ever hope for: a gratuitous optimism that somehow our good ideas will linger awhile beyond our mortal time frame and the bad ideas will rest with our bodies beneath a solid six feet of dirt. Beyond my own little world of experience and verbiage, I want the same to hold universally true for all writers; regard it as my “rhetorical creed,” perhaps, but I want to believe that good ideas that have been well articulated have a Darwinian advantage over bad ideas that are poorly expressed.
     Here's the deal – almost everyone of us has had one of those rare moments when an excellent idea has presented itself and then, while considering the prospect of the enormity of the task of putting the idea into writing, has walked away from the project because the climb to articulation seemed too steep. Those of us who write (and teach writing) face the same mountainous climb as Sisyphus when it comes to putting ideas into comprehensible prose. The understanding that the words that end up in our sentences will never fully live up to expressing our ideas can produce a vertigo that prevents many people from writing altogether. While chainsaws threaten to tear into skin and muscle, criticism of our writing, especially the writing we care the most about, threatens to rip into our souls. It's not just the effort to climb the mountain where we reach the peak to where we have said what we needed to say that intimidates us; it's the expectation that behind us, holding on to our rope, is the deadweight of the internal critic who wants to find fault with every verbal choice we make. Sometimes when we are trying to write, it's as though we can hear that annoyed and anxious climber behind us saying, “Be careful where you put that comma or you could fall to your doom! Are you sure you want to use that adverb there? It could mean something else to another reader, and the next thing you know you're out fifty feet of good rope.” Given the difficulty of saying things well with an interesting style that nonetheless conforms to the dictates of Standard English, it is a wonder that mere human beings strive at writing anything.
     The question, then, is “How do we do it? How can we carry our ideas up the steep mountain of composition without getting overburdened from either the weight of our own condemnation or the heavy criticism of others?” There is, unfortunately, no single easy answer to this problem; there is no sky lift that will hoist you effortlessly up to a finished composition. There are, however, many solid techniques that struggling writers can use for making the journey easier. The first, perhaps, is to stay aware that writing is usually difficult for most people. Knowing that writing is difficult doesn't excuse you from not doing it, but it can help you get past the idea that it should be easier.
     The second trick for developing fluency in writing is to focus on where you are now instead of continually reminding yourself of where you want to be. As an alternative to feeling overwhelmed by the amount of distance you need to cover to finish the project, think about how much easier it is to merely write the next sentence or polish off the paragraph you're working on. Instead of thinking in terms of “miles to go,” think in terms of “steps ahead.” Slow progress builds momentum. Once you get so far, writing often takes off on its own.
     A third strategy for getting writing done is to realize that everything and anything can be changed later so it's better to just get things down poorly and revise later than it is to attempt perfection on the first try. Perfection is never going to happen; you can reach a point of deep satisfaction with your prose without harboring the needless expectation you have to love every word as it appears in your composition.
     A fourth important tactic to keep writing going is to see readers as co-travelers instead of as audience members. A co-traveler is someone who goes along with you for the journey, but an audience member is there to witness a performance. While writing can be thought of as a performance, it shouldn't be the point of your writing. When performance takes precedence over message, the point of the journey (your message) can get lost. Your concerns regarding other people's opinions on how well you are climbing can overshadow your concern for completing the journey. A co-traveler is there to help you find your way and to enjoy your company; thinking about how best to accentuate your reader's experience is a better alternative to feeling the weight of worrying about responding to a critic's displeasure.
     Finally, and perhaps the best trick for making writing easier is to take yourself and your prose less seriously. While writing is always going to carry the risk of misinterpretation or offense to other people's sensibilities, you can take comfort in the knowledge that you are almost certainly going to care more about the inadequacies of your writing than other people will. If you start up a mountain and realize this is not the scenery you expected, then you've got the choice of plodding on ahead to see where it takes you or starting afresh up a different mountain. Sometimes, allowing the words to come out to see what they have to tell you is completely worth the anxiety of not knowing what lies beyond the turn up ahead.
     If writing isn't your thing, I guess there are always going to be chainsaws. On the other hand, if you want to write on a Sunday morning, you are far less likely to disturb the neighbors than if you were in the backyard knocking out your next masterpiece with your 110 decibel Husqvarna. Keep thinking rhetorically and I'll be back next week.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Tongue in Cheek with a Mind of Its Own

“Rhetoric is the Art of speaking suitably upon any Subject.” – John Kirkby, A New English Grammar, 1746.
“Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high, there's a land that I heard of once in a lullaby.” – Yip Harburg
     Have you ever accidentally bit the inside of your cheek and then noticed over the course of the next few days how often your tongue goes there to fiddle with the injury? Perhaps while sitting at a conference table or across a meal with some friends, the disturbing thought might creep into your consciousness that you probably look slightly foolish with your tongue pushing your cheek out in curious gyrations. Without having been aware of it, you may have appeared to the people you are sitting with as to have taken up the habits of chewing tobacco or harboring small rodents in your mouth. Once you become aware that you are doing the tongue-to-cheek yoga, it seems like it should be easy to stop, but it never is. You can say to yourself, “Okay, tongue, let it go,” and then a few minutes later, there's your tongue rolling over the spot again like a dog with its favorite chew toy. It's in these moments when we realize that our conscious brain may drive the car, but there are other passengers in there riding along, playing with the radio, and leaving snack food containers in the back seat.
     Why is this? How is it that our primary consciousness can make a direct and simple request for our tongue to stop what it's doing, but the tongue merely waits until consciousness is preoccupied with something else before it continues its rumba with the inside cheek of the mouth? How can this one muscle of our body be so disciplined when we ask it to savor a flavor or enunciate a thought become so independent and rude when it wants to massage a minor mouth injury? Clearly, the conscious mind likes to think it's the captain of the ship, steering our lives through the sea of existence, but somehow our bodies have hidden crew members who pursue their own agendas well beneath the ordinary apprehension of awareness. Every weekday morning as I step into the shower, I remind myself of how much time I actually have to bathe, to get dressed, and to scurry out of the house without being late for work. Once in the shower, however, the soothing warmth of the water commandeers the body, and after a few minutes when the work-brain begins to insist it needs to move along or be late, the rest of the body sings a chorus of “not yet, not yet” and the eternal struggle between mind and body continues like a ceaseless round of tug of war.
     It is in these moments when our primary identities seem to want one thing while other subconscious influences seem to desire something else that our central conscious identity – the one who thinks of itself as “you” and who uses the first-person “I” to refer to itself – catches glimpses of the other energies that motivate our decisions. As much as we may want to think of ourselves as singular, rational, self-determined individuals who make conscious choices based on evidence and experience, the reality is we are actually a menagerie of wild ideas, feral emotions, and peculiar behaviors that, for the most part, the zookeeper of our conscious keeps contained and sedated for the sake of propriety and self-preservation. Just as our tongue seeks out the sore, sometimes this precarious collection of rogue ideas and unexpressed passions looks for cracks in our central understanding of “what's real” or “what's true”, and this probing can lead us to ongoing feelings of anxiety over comprehending both our the universe and our role within it.
     Sometimes, at seemingly random moments, we find ourselves struck with an awkward discomfort for being nothing other than ourselves, and we wonder, “Where is this worrying coming from?” It's coming from the discomfort of being in charge of a zoo where all the animals want fed at the same time. It's coming from the sneaking suspicion that there's more going on than we'll ever know or be able to get a handle on. It's coming from a bewildering onslaught of information and a never-ending discussion on what we're supposed to care about. Well, what if don't care about the same things as other people? There's so much we are supposed to care about – from personal hygiene to world hunger – how can we care about it all? No wonder we sometimes find ourselves overwhelmed by life, and we can't exactly put a finger on what is bothering us. Perhaps it is because being human means we are going to be bothered by a lot of things: ideas, feelings, and behaviors that overwhelm our ability to cope with them all at one time.
     One of the wisest counselors I ever knew once said, “The word “should” is the most mentally ill word in the English language because whenever we are using the word, we are not dealing with the way things are but dealing with an illusive concept of how things ought to be. The world we actually live in will never be the place we think it 'should' be.” This idea – that reality ought to be different than it is – is perhaps the most dangerous beast we try to contain within us. While there is nothing wrong with seeking a better life for ourselves, our families, our nation, or our world at large, merely complaining that the world needs to change is an attempt to escape our reality rather than deal with it.
This, for me, is where rhetoric comes in. Being able to communicate well with others, appreciating the factors that are mostly likely to influence thinking and behavior, are not the contemptible tools of manipulation, but the implements for carving out our place in the world. Though rhetoric is often maligned as the empty bombast of politicians and snake oil swindlers use on the naive, its true purpose is not to mesmerize people into believing what is not true, but to highlight the most sentient aspects of whatever we honestly do believe is true. As much as rhetoric is the study of how to convince others of the rightness of our particular ideas, it is also the art of consciously tracking the ways in which we talk to ourselves when we are seeking the answers to the quintessential questions that afflict our mortal existence.
     There are, of course, many other options for remedying the psychic discomforts that come with modern human existence. Some people find release from anxiety in prescribed anti-depressants while others sedate themselves through alcohol and other widely available psychotropics. Some folks have found great relief through the salve of religion while others have found equal solace in the concepts of philosophy. I don't recommend it for everyone, but I have found the study of rhetoric to be an excellent tonic for ongoing relief from the reoccurring angst that comes with the chronic fretfulness of contemporary life. The study of rhetoric has helped me understand the boundaries of reality and become more comfortable with the acknowledgement that there's always going to be more to life than merely distinguishing between what is right from what is wrong and separating what does exist from what does not. Unfortunately, better understanding of theory does not always lead to better practice. This past week after telling myself I was not going to lose my temper at a presentation on “improved educational practices,” I completely went off on a rant after the presenter used the phrase “inarguable research” when describing how treating children as cogs rather than human beings will results in higher achievement scores. I guess when it comes to controlling my tongue, I sometimes have more to worry about than it roaming around the inside of a cheek.
     My original intentions when setting up this blog was to focus upon the arguments that people use to defend beliefs that diverge from mainstream thinking. More and more, however, as weeks have passed, I have come to the realization that the question that concerns me most is not really “why do some people believe in the existence of spaceships, ghosts, werewolves, or angels?” but rather what does the word “existence” really mean? When we draw the line of existence, between what is and what is not, how do we define the context for the conditions in which things can exist from when they cannot? This is my ongoing journey, and for the readers who are going down this path with me every week, I cannot say how much I appreciate your company and your comments.
     Keep thinking rhetorically, and I will return next week.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Hot Under the Collar: Spontaneous Human Combustion

“When you're hot, you're hot, and when you're not, you're not.” – Jerry Reed
“Goodness gracious, great balls of fire!” – Jerry Lee Lewis

     I remember sitting in a ninth grade science class and hearing about “spontaneous combustion” for the first time. The teacher was explaining that sometimes natural biological and chemical processes can lead certain materials to ignite all on their own without human intervention. The idea of some thing suddenly and unexpectedly bursting into flames boggled my teenaged brain. The idea made the world a different place for me, a more dangerous place; until that moment, I did not know that anything could catch fire all by itself. “It happens sometimes in hay barns,” the teacher said. “If a farmer bales his hay before it's dry enough, then the moisture in the hay can cause it to build up enough compressed heat to start a fire. Poof! Just like that, a mixture of heat, oxygen, and other gases resulting from fermentation inside the bale can cause hay to explode into flames.” I was still trying to decide whether I wanted to believe whether things could actually, just on their own, erupt into flames when a classmate raised his hand and declared, “It happens to people too.”
     “What does?” the teacher asked.
     “Sometimes people just burst into flames,” my classmate offered. “It's called 'Spontaneous Human Combustion.' I read about it. It happened to a character in one of Dickens' books.”
     “There's not a lot of evidence for that really happening,” the teacher replied. “Let's just stick to what we know can happen.”
     “If it never happens, then why is there a term for it?” The student was persistent. “If it never happens, then where did Dickens get the idea that it did? He didn't just make it up, did he?”
     A weird nervous tension filled the room. It was one of those rare moments when even the students who never pay attention seemed to be paying attention. We could see the frustration on the teacher's face, but we couldn't really understand it. The science teacher seemed to be getting angry, but we couldn't tell why.
     “Look,” the teacher said with about 50% more volume than necessary. “This is science class. Here we study what can actually happen in the world. In English class, you don't have to worry about what actually can or can't happen. Charles Dickens was under no obligation to write about the real world. Dickens told stories. Stories aren't real. In the real world, hay bales sometimes catch themselves on fire, but people don't. Now, let's move on.”
     But, of course, my squirrelly freshman classmate was not going to let it go. Something he said had touched a nerve, and he wanted to find out what the teacher would do if he continued to push it. Back when I was a student, these experiments typically ended with someone getting kicked out of the room and sent to the principal's office. “How do YOU know what's real?” the student asked. “Charles Dickens was one of the most popular writers in history. How can you say you know more than he does about spontaneous human combustion?”
     “Science isn't about what's popular,” the teacher said emphatically. “Science is about what people can prove. It doesn't matter how popular Dickens was. Dickens also wrote about ghosts. Lots and lots of people believe in ghosts, but that doesn't mean they exist. What we talk about in science class is based on evidence, not wild stories!” At that point, the science teacher commanded us to open our textbooks to the end of the chapter and to start answering the review questions on page 64. The kid who had been arguing for the existence of spontaneous human combustion continued to hold his hand in the air, but the teacher began ignoring it. After a few minutes, the teacher relented and said to the kid, “If this has anything to do with what's on page 64, go ahead, but if this has anything to do with people catching fire, I don't want to hear about it.”
     “I was just wanting to know how many people would have to catch fire before you felt you had enough evidence to believe that people catch fire,” the student said smugly.
The teacher sent the student to the principal's office. “What'd I do?” the kid asked repeatedly as he walked out the door. “I told him I didn't want to talk about it, and he wouldn't let it go,” the teacher said to the rest of us after the kid had left, and the door shut behind him. Nobody said anything to the teacher; we went back to silently writing out the discussion questions on our notebook paper. I didn't say it out loud, naturally, but I remember thinking, “What the heck just happened here?”
     Although I did not understand back then why the teacher became so upset, I think I have a pretty good understanding of it now. This particular teacher has spent years becoming a science teacher because there was something within his love for science that spoke directly to his identity. Something in the way science explained the world outside of him helped him define his inner reality as well. Just like the rest of us, this teacher carried a psychic model of the world in his head that explained to him why things happen. When the student challenged his psychic model of how the universe works by insisting on the possibility of spontaneous human combustion, the teacher responded as though this challenge to his way of thinking was equivalent to a personal attack on his character. When the student insisted on an explanation for something that did not fit into this teacher's personal scientific worldview, the teacher did not experience the student's questions as a legitimate exploration of reality but as a subversive and disrespectful expression of insolence. In other words, what could have been an amusing discussion on the remote possibility of people bursting into flames turned instead into a defensive, uneasy declaration of authority and dogmatism. Perhaps had it been a different day or had the comment come from a different student, the teacher would have responded by making a joke or by saying something to the effect that science has a low tolerance for unorthodox phenomena, but on this day, the teacher heard the reverberation of impertinence echo within him from his student's remarks, and he exiled the heretic to the dark retribution of the principal's office.
     I suppose that everyone who has ever attended public school has at some point been there when an ordinary conversation takes a grim turn, and contention, rather than real flames, flared up seemingly without warning. And, of course, this type of human interaction is not by any means limited to schools. People can get angry anywhere. All of us at some time in our lives have been victims to the blind allegiance we give to the models of reality we build in our heads, and heaven help those who accidentally bump into our most heartfelt beliefs and threaten their stability. In our heads, we construct scaffolding hobbled together from odd scrapes of old parental warnings, religious indoctrination, civil obligations, and toothpaste advertising. On top of this scaffolding, we heap layers of desire for the people we want to be, along with the debris we create from the yearning not to be the people we once were. Do people sometimes, unexpectedly burst into flames? You know we do. We all have.
     Keep thinking rhetorically, and I'll be back next week.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Bullets and Bubbles

     Late last summer, the legislature in the state I teach in finalized some changes to my retirement system. Due to one of those changes (pertaining to a new five year wait for retirees to see an increase in their cost of living allowance), I have been telling people I plan on retiring after the end of this school year. While it's true that I have a financial incentive to get out, it's not really the reason I'm walking away from a job I've loved for 30 years. The truth is I am a coward. This is not an easy admission to make publicly, but I am no longer comfortable in the school district where I have made my work life – the same district where my father once taught, and the same district where I graduated high school.
Truth be told, my financial excuse to retire is just a smokescreen; when I told my superintendent that I would be retiring at the end of the year in order to avoid the deadline decreed by the retirement system changes, he did not hesitate to say that he would hire me back. So as far as the money goes, I really could have my cake and eat it too; I could take a retirement, get my cost of living increases, and pick right back up with the same job next year. The truth, then, as to why I feel the need to move on is that I don't have the guts to stick around any more.
     Now given the amount of media that has been devoted to school violence in recent weeks, your first guess about why teaching school now fills me with dread and apprehension might be that I'm afraid that the madness that killed students and teachers in Connecticut might somehow show up where I work. If that was your first guess, then you probably are not a public school teacher. The school teachers I know and work with are not much afraid of crazy guys with bullets, but we are having nightmares about crazy guys with bubble sheets.
     In the small rural district where I teach, many people consider guns as much a part of their everyday life as country music on their radios. Where I teach, the district always schedules a day off for the first day of deer season, and back at the beginning of my career, students thought nothing of displaying their rifles in the gun racks that hung in the windows of their pickup trucks. While students no longer display their weaponry in the parking lot, it would be ridiculous to assume they don't own it or can't get their hands on it. For at least some of my students, they consider buying and selling guns a hobby no more dangerous or delinquent than trading baseball cards. More often than not, these students started their gun collection through a gift from a relative as a birthday or Christmas present.
     While I would rather live in a culture that did not offer my students such easy access to such lethal devices, I am not really concerned about it either. Right or wrong, I mentally categorize school shootings in the same psychic file drawer I put deadly lightening strikes, peanut allergies, and bee stings. I am not saying these are not matters of real concern; I am saying as a teacher, my life is already filled with too many other things to worry about. While all deaths are serious, and my heart goes out to every parent who has lost a child, of all the students I have lost to tragic circumstance, none has died at the end of a gun; they have died while riding four-wheelers, falling out of boats, or driving too fast on rural highways.
     My district's response to the recent tragedy in Connecticut was to lock the school's front door and keep an adult posted by the door to let people in. I don't even care if this is a good idea or not; other people can debate the marginal increase of security we gain by paying people with college degrees to devote part of their day to opening doors on the outside chance that some crazy person with a gun might think shooting the glass door apart is too much effort. The danger to my students lives that I'm concerned about – the fear that is driving me to another line of work – is not some loud, random, sensational violence that barges in from the outside; it's the quiet, systemic, corporate violence that is slowly killing us from the inside.
     I'll tell you what I'm afraid of. I'm afraid for the future survival of my students and my colleagues, and I do not want to be around to watch the carnage that I know is coming. Soon, because of bureaucratic decisions made regarding how students are to be tested and how teachers are to be evaluated, there is going to be some serious destruction to the lives of people I care deeply about, and I am not willing to hang around and be one more martyr to the cause. On this let me be perfectly clear, there is nothing hyperbolic or fantastic about my comparison of the dangers of bubble sheets to bullets. The difference between the two in terms of lives destroyed is merely in how long it takes for the destruction to set in.
     In case you do think I'm exaggerating, then let me lay it out for you. In Ohio, where I teach, the degree of difficultly of the standardized tests and the impact on the lives of students and teachers has gradually been ratcheted up for the past two decades. We started nearly twenty years ago with a “proficiency” test that students needed to pass in order to graduate high school; that initial test was based (supposedly) on what a student should know entering the ninth grade. From there, about a decade ago, the state moved to “the Ohio Graduation Tests,” a series of five tests given at the end of the sophomore year and (supposedly) based on what students were supposed to know by the end of their 10th grade. The big difference between the OGTs and its predecessor is that the newer test covered two more years of material and students had fewer chances to pass them. This fall, the state released its new plan for standardized testings; starting next year school year (or the year following if the details of the funding have not been worked out by the legislature), students will be expected to pass 10 “end of course” exams and an additional “ACT/SAT” style test in order to graduate from high school. If you hear a gurgling sound, it's the future of many well intentioned students and their teachers going down a drain.
     With “end of the course” exams, students who fail these particular tests will not only face the humiliation of retaking an exam, but the entire class it was based upon as well. What this realistically means is that a significant percentage of students who would have otherwise graduated high school, will drop out of school because of either their inability to pass these more difficult exams or their unwillingness to spend extra years in high school trying to earn all of their necessary graduation credits. In the past few years, I can count on one hand the number of students who didn't graduate from my high school because they either couldn't pass the OGTs or quit trying, and let me tell you folks, nothing is more gut-wrenching than seeing the principal tell a student in May of their senior year that they will not be walking on graduation night with their peers. How many more students will now quit school because instead of having two years and half years to pass five exams, they will need to pass three or four a year for their first three years of high school? You want to talk about school violence? Let's talk about the economic bomb that blows apart a student's future every time one of them is faced with finding working for the rest of their life without a high school diploma. With the OGTs, Ohio's current graduation rate is 74% (and much, much lower if you are a minority student or come from a family of poverty). How low do you think the graduation rate will fall after we have instituted the newer “more difficulty” yearly exams? I don't want to be around to find out.
     The new state required teacher evaluations are just as draconian. Now, as matter of Ohio law, 50 % of all teacher evaluations are to be based on their students' standardized test scores. Setting aside the argument that a whole host of social and cultural factors have a greater impact on student scores than the efforts of individual teachers, setting aside the argument that these tests can only pretend to assess what they are supposed to measure (I have a Ph.D in composition, and I don't have the foggiest idea how anyone can delineate the difference between what a high school freshman, sophomore, or junior should know at the end of their subsequent English classes), setting aside the sheer waste of instructional time and resources we will will spend on remediating students who will be merely waiting until they reach the age that will legally allow them to dropout; the other 50% of the evaluations come from a newly prescribed rubric that principals must follow that has been designed to document teacher flaws rather than report upon their strengths. This means that even teachers with relatively good student test scores can expect to receive poor evaluations because of the design of their evaluation rubric.
     Call me a coward. I do not want to see it as it unfolds. Already I am hearing from first year colleagues who are overwhelmed and disheartened at the sheer inanity of the new procedures we are being asked to follow in anticipation of the coming storm. Veteran teachers have not only been given the financial retirement incentive to leave the profession, but we are seeing our ability to engage students crippled by redundant and meaningless assessments that we are being forced by our administrators to design and score.
     This week my principal sent an email to the staff telling us that we were expected to have a “bell-ringer” assessment and an “exit-slip” assessment for every class, every day. Now, a little quick math: suppose I see roughly 120 students a day. That's two pieces of paper per student per class. If I could manage to file, read, score, and record all of these pieces of paper in just 30 seconds per page, it would only add roughly two hours to my daily workload. This, of course, comes on top of all the other data I'm supposed to be collecting to show evidence that I'm doing my job.
     Call me a coward. I need to go. The evidence of my teaching used to be the lifelong intellectual and financial success of my students. With the new testing requirements and the new teacher evaluation rubric, my worth as a teacher is being reduced to some statistical analysis based on some arcane logarithm that no one actually believes in. Soon, as a required offshoot of all of this, The State of Ohio (along with many other states) will be positing teachers' names and evaluation scores on an easily accessible public website. Whatever happened to the dignity that came with being a teacher? There is no humanity in being a dot on graph, and given a choice, I'd rather face the bullets than the bubble sheets.
     Keep thinking rhetorically, and I'll be back next week.