Thursday, April 20, 2006

A Random(ish) Collection of Thoughts

I've been listening to public radio quite a lot recently and I've been reading Robert Reich's blog. These have stimulated in me some thoughts that I think might be worth mentioning here in my blog:
  1. Why are Americans so adept at electing presidents who are either incapable or unwilling when it comes to properly pronouncing the word "nuclear"? It's just three syllables. The "E" is long. There's only one "U". And the "C" is followed by an "L" with no vowel between them. How difficult is that?
  2. If there are any high school teachers reading this who might have a bit of free time to run a simple experiment, I'd appreciate the following:
    • Have your students take out a sheet of paper.
    • Ask your students to each write 20 complete sentences of varying complexity. Stress that the goal is 20 complete sentences. The subject matter is irrelevant. There is no requirement to tell truths. There is no requirement that the sentences be grouped into paragraphs.
    • Request that your students not copy from each other or confer or seek advice. The hope is that each student will do his or her own work.
    • Provide a sufficient amount of time for completion of the task.
    • Collect the papers.
    • "Grade" the papers. Basically, this is a pass/fail experiment. The goal is to figure out how many of your students are capable of completing the assignment with no preparation.
    • We're looking for two things: (1) Different sentence structures. (That is, a page full of "I am sad.", "I am bored.", "I am tired.", "This is dumb.", etc.,. . . does not pass.) (2) Complete sentences. (No fragments, nothing that lacks a subject or a verb, etc.,. . .)
    • Let me know what percentage of students passed. If you'd like to forward me the papers, I'd probably be interested in reading them, but that's not essential to my request.
    I bring this up because I was listening to some people discussing the state of our educational system and what needs to be done to fix it. For a few years, I've been hearing rumors of employers having difficulty finding employees who are capable of writing. And I have a notion that this test is a very simple, very quick way of determining, to some degree, which students really should be identified as being in desperate need of intense help. I happen to believe that if someone is in high school and can't pass this test, that student has cheated the system (or been cheated by the system) for too long. As an absolute minimum, inability to pass this test should be a guarantee of no diploma.
  3. On Tuesday, Diane Rehm had a guest opining about how wrong it is of these retired generals to speak their minds about D. Rumsfeld. I believe the guest himself was a retired general, although I may be mistaken. Among the things he said was this: "If the president supports him, then I support him." I wonder whether to interpret this as "If the person who occupies the office of the presidency supports him. . ." (in which case, this is blind faith in leadership and it reflects a troubling lack of thought). Or perhaps it should be interpreted as "If George W. Bush supports him. . ." (in which case, this indicates faith in someone who has proven to be unworthy of trust, let alone faith.) Either way, it makes me worry.


  1. I saw a bumper sticker the other day, and since it can be interpreted as relating to all three points in this posting, I thought I'd quote it to/for you:

    "If you aren't outraged, you haven't been paying attention."

    Amen to that.

    (your sister)

  2. Yes, indeed. Amen to that. And it seems as if there's more to be outraged about on a daily basis.

  3. They recently (within the last month) passed a law in California which requires an "exit exam" for high school seniors. You must be able to read at a tenth grade level and do math at an eighth grade level to graduate high school. The article said that one in ten seniors could not do this, so that some 47,000 students would not be able to graduate this year. There was talk of appeal, but with some schools' graduations only a week away, the article said it was doubtful an appeal would help any of those seniors this year.

    I think the law is sorely needed, given the number of students that will be failing. How is it possible to get to the end of your basic education without really having learned these things? And who ultimately is responsible for the failure of those students? The kids for skating by or the teachers for letting them?