Lemon-Scented Bivouac  

Fatherly and, eventually, teacherly blather. Also: graphic design, baseball, synthetic fabrics, jug band music and, lord help us, the occasional politics.

Saturday, November 16, 2002  

Albert Einstein, that canny little guy, was sent some letters by schoolchildren and replied to some of them (New York Times link; needs a registration but I think you can use metafilter/metafilter). When a group asked him why humans are called animals, he came up with a response that all teachers should follow as a model, I think:

Dear Children:

We should not ask "What is an animal" but "what sort of thing do we call an animal?" Well, we call something an animal which has certain characteristics: it takes nourishment, it descends from parents similar to itself, it grows, it moves by itself, it dies if its time has run out. That's why we call the worms, the chicken, the dog, the monkey an animal. What about us humans? Think about it in the above mentioned way and then decide for yourselves whether it is a natural thing to regard ourselves as animals.

With kind regards,
Albert Einstein
January 17, 1953

Imagine if everyone had been talked to that way by adults in school ...

  posted by Andy @ 10:02 AM §

Friday, November 15, 2002  

This is a great photograph.

  posted by Andy @ 11:42 AM §

A segment on Robert Klein that I heard on KUOW yesterday reminded me how amazingly funny he was (and maybe still is; his few moments in Comedian got me to laugh out loud). You can listen to the show in RealAudio and tell me if you agree.

  posted by Andy @ 10:10 AM §


Some people in England decided that they should make some clogs for Terry Waite, the clergyman who was held hostage for five years in Beirut. Then they decided that the clogs should travel to him only by canal, in a plastic case, with the banner "Clogs for Terry Waite" held in front of them. Then they documented the entire (apparently short) trip. Now you can re-live The Voyage of Terry Waite's Clogs. (Found on metafilter.)

  posted by Andy @ 9:30 AM §

Thursday, November 14, 2002  

And just to add a bit of cheer: One little-commented-on portion of the act creating the new Department of Homeland Security is the Cyber Security Enhancement Act's "Good Faith Disclosure" Exception, which empowers any official of any government agency to retreive any electronic record of any person without a warrant and without notification or even keeping a record of the retrieval -- provided such retreival is done "in good faith."

  posted by Andy @ 1:10 PM §

Okay, folks. The WASL. As in Washington Assessment of Student Learning. I'd always been anti-standardized testing in a vague, sort of humanistic way, probably because the standardized tests I'd taken as a kid were kind of silly and pointless. But I had no idea what the WASL and all its brethren around the country were like. Neither do you, I'd guess, because no one cares (well, a few people are waving their arms, but more on that in a moment.


-- Takes ten hours to complete, which is longer than some state bar exams.

-- Teachers are never allowed to see the test. Not beforehand, not afterwards.

-- Students and parents are not allowed to review the results of the test. Parents can arrange to view a "sample" test beforehand, but they have to sign a confidentiality agreement stating that they will not discuss what they have seen with anyone.

-- Websites that have published even one sample question have received cease-and-desist letters from the Office of Public Instruction. One Chicago teacher who printed questions from the Chigago standardized test in his self-published newspaper was fired and sued for $1.3 million by his own district.

-- Reports from the WASL and similar tests around the country have indicated that the test is horrendously written and extremely age-inappropriate. 4th-graders, for instance, are asked to explain what a cartouche is; to describe the social significange of Uncle Tom's Cabin in 19th-century history; 5th-graders are being asked to identify which organisms belong to the class Monera. 10th-graders are being asked to compute the force vectors at work in landing airplanes. The level of difficulty is cruel.

-- Teachers are not allowed to talk to students, even comfort them or explain how the test works, while the test is being administered. Harcourt, which creates many widely-administered tests, includes instruction to a teacher on how to handle a child vomiting from anxiety. (The instructions for taking the test are written in adult bureaucratese; the samples I read were incomprehensible to me.)

-- The WASL is made of essay questions, graded by hand. The best objective estimate seems to be that the same answer will be graded the same way by two different graders about 55% of the time.

-- The school's funding is directly tied to WASL results. (In many states, the teacher's salary is as well.) By 2008, students will have to pass all four sections of the WASL to graduate.

-- In many schools, students are starting to study for the 4th-grade WASL in kindergarten. Of course, there's a kindergarten WASL as well. And one for the 8th and 11th grades. And WASLs for most of the other grades are coming online in a few years.

It's insanity. So: Why? Well, the companies administering the tests make a hell of a lot of money, not just from the exclusive contract to administer the tests (and thereby pass or fail students), but to create curricula that teachers then have to administer for much of the day (including minute-by-minute instructions to teachers on when to say what, when to put what slide on the overhead, etc.). And politicians get by with a sound bite: "I support tough new standards for our schools. It's time to demand accountability from our public school system."

The main venue to start with is Susan Ohanian's website. She's a Georgia teacher with a long history of rabble-rousing, and she deserves at least a visit. Read News from the Resistance Trail for the best summary, but please don't stop there. I'm going to keep posting on this subject as I go, so prepare yourself for it.

  posted by Andy @ 12:58 PM §

Wednesday, November 13, 2002  

I get lots of wrong-address e-mails, which are at least interesting. In fact, let me pause for a moment to reproduce my (favorite?):

Hi Andy, Between U and I, I just received a call from Shawna. Eric was arrested tonite for a dui, and I guess another warrant for Snohomish count. I think he’s in the Snohomish county jail. Shawna said she would call me when she here’s from him and I will fill you in. You may want to find out what the visiting hours are and check on him. As soon as I can find out more, I will try to get over there to visit him. Also, would like to get you kids together before Shell leaves on 8/12 and have dinner overthere. Was thinking about early evening on Sat 8/3. I sent Sue an email advising here also. Will check with you later. You take care, Love DAD

Love DAD? This is how the man passes on news like this? This e-mail actually spooked me for a moment, because I have a sister named Shauna and a good friend named Eric (don't we all?). Fortunately, this drama is not mine to share.

Anyway, one of my wrong-address e-mails arrived today from a concert photgrapher with a page of "new live rock and fucking roll pics." Go ahead and look, but first you may borrow my opinion that we have reached the very exhausted end of the extra-greasy, whacked-out, we're-from-Detroit-and-sound-like-the-Stooges, muttonchopped-pipsqueak RAWK N FUCKIN ROLL era. It was cute and even welcome for a while, but it's getting to be tiresomely uniform, as with most mini-trends. What amuses me is that it's always presented as something ENTIRELY NEW. (I think I remember a review from The Stranger praising the inventiveness of a band whose members all took the same last name, gosh.) Must end soon, probably will.

  posted by Andy @ 12:06 PM §

Okay, so it's illegal. But no one will rat on me if I past one song per week on this website, will they? I'm taking bits of the CD Dana and I just made for Baby Lou's birthday (that's not Lou's diary, it's her mother's). The theme for said CD amounted to Cheerful, and we could all use that. So first enjoy Tony Alvon and the Belairs performing "Sexy Coffee Pot." (I don't think the word "sexy" is damaging to a one-year-old, by the way.)

  posted by Andy @ 10:44 AM §

Tuesday, November 12, 2002  

Dad, what did your world look like when you were young?

  posted by Andy @ 4:31 PM §


During a late-night/early-morning bout of hazy sleeplessness, the command came to me to tell you: Remove ivy! What if our children grow up to think that a uniform landscape of ivy and blackberry bushes is beautiful? Remove ivy!

I've been told that having children changes your politics. Mine has changed already -- I have an issue now. I want that ivy, those blackberry bushes and the diabolical tansy ragwort gone! (We'll work on deporting the English sparrow later.)

  posted by Andy @ 11:08 AM §


Click on me!
This is, of course, exactly the sort of thing I do all day at work -- create precious living-memory works for fine reproduction.
From the Gallery of Illustrations at the American Newspaper Repository. They seem to be doing fine work.
And at least one (often) straight-edge vegan I know would probably be intrigued by this 1906 series of illustrations entitled "Eating Walnut Croquettes and Broiled Peanuts with the 'Straight Edgers'."

  posted by Andy @ 10:48 AM §

Monday, November 11, 2002  

Been thinking a lot lately about music for the kid-yet-to-be. (I'm too ashamed to write our pet name for it here, on the Internet Web where anyone can read it.) Anyway, much music is to be played in the house both via CD and guitar+throat. I have some ideas (and I'll leak some mp3s here in weeks to come), but suggestions are encouraged. That is all.

Please keep in touch, people; I'm working the night shift these days and could use the communication.

  posted by Andy @ 11:45 PM §

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