Friday, August 29, 2008

Go Gamecocks. Anywhere but in the middle of 5:00 traffic

When the University of South Carolina plays at home there are several hours of tailgating before hand, as with many places. Whether the team is good, bad, or indifferent, the tailgating is first-rate.

There are these things called "Cock-a-booses" that are old train cars that are lined up on an abandoned train track. They sell for more than my house and are done up for tailgating parties. I've seen pictures of one that has a marble floor, mahogany bar, silk wallpaper, etc. It looks like the car in the Wild, Wild, West. The TV show--- not the movie.

There is a new condominium complex built simply so people will have a place to party before and after the games. For the less fortunate, there are wide parking spaces in lots (some with potties) that you can rent by the season or the game. And there is some parking beside the road.

For miles and miles around the stadium, there are parked cars, people staggering around, and an altered traffic flow. The traffic flows almost all in to the stadium before the game and out after (DUH). Everyone in Columbia knows that on Saturdays with a game, you do not try to go within ten miles of the stadium.

OK, so yesterday (Thursday), I leave my office at 4:30 to pick up Bob downtown at 5:00. I take my usual route, down Shop Rd to Assembly to Huger to Gervais. I remember there is a sink hole at Huger & Blossom, so I call and ask Bob how to avoid that. He says to stay on Assembly until I get to Gervais. I say, of course, I should have thought about that.

As I drive down Shop Rd, I see people buying or selling tickets. I don't think anything about that, since my boss had sold his tickets since he's going out of town this weekend. As I drive further down Shop Rd... did I mention that the Stadium is at Shop, Bluff, Assembly and Rosewood? I notice more and more cars and people, then the parking lots, then the traffic, then the traffic cones, then the... oh no...Williams Brice Stadium.

I call Bob and say, "Is the game TONIGHT?" He says, "Oh yeah, it is." Then he giggles. I say, I'll see you when I see you.

I get turned off Assembly at Rosewood and have to go about ten miles out of my way to get back to Gervais without hitting game traffic. Then I hit the regular five o'clock "help, I'm in my car and I've forgotten how to drive" traffic on Gervais.

Since Columbia isn't a big city, this didn't take more than 40 minutes all together, but it certainly was a lesson. To me at least.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Culture of Respect

Many years ago, I taught social studies in a high school. A new principal was assigned to the school in rather unpleasant circumstances, but being Pollyanna, I decided to welcome him and give him a chance. I commented to a friend that it was nice of him to sit in the teacher's workroom every morning welcoming all of the teachers. She gave me THE LOOK.

"Kathy, does he say good morning to you?"

I said, "Well, no. I don't think he likes me."

She said, "He doesn't say hello to anyone. He is checking to make sure that we don't sign in other teachers."


Over the next couple of years, it got worse. He told teachers that he knew they were only there for the paycheck and that only he cared about the students. He refused to talk to some teachers and lavished praise on others, for no obvious reason. Many not so hot teachers left (including me) and many more excellent teachers found better places to be. The school's test scores plummeted from Death Valley lows to someplace I didn't believe existed.

He is not there any more. He is at another high school in the district, working his magic yet again. Mr. Fixit.

The purpose of this is not to exorcise my personal demons (although it looks like I have some meditation to do), but to note that Richland School District One has a new superintendent. I have heard good things about him from teachers, parents, administrators, and community members. Hopes are high.

His job, as I see it, is not just to improve test scores. It is to revamp the entire culture of Richland One.

Although almost everyone gives lip service to "it's all about the children," and the vast majority of employees on all levels in Richland One believe that with all of their hearts, there is a powerful minority that views public education as a zero sum battle among parents, teachers, administrators, and central office. Notice there are no children in the equation.

There are many models (as close as Richland Two) of school districts that empower teachers, administrators, and parents, respecting their professionalism & knowledge while holding them accountable as professionals.

No zero sum games.

No condescending "lessons" in the ways of "these students."

No excuses.

A culture of respect for students, teachers, parents, and administrators.

Because we are all it this together. Because it is all about the children.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The First Day of School

Today is the first day of the school year. We are all very excited. Even the kittens seem to be especially annoying this morning. Mark will be in the upper elementary class, the oldest grade at the school now. He will be joined by Shayna, his sister-in-law's niece. This is her first year at Carolina School for Inquiry, and we are really happy she is joining us.

I can't think of a better place for my child to be. Every teacher cares about the children. The lead teacher/director knows every student and every family. They know or are learning how to interest each child in learning, how to get the child involved. They know when to push and when to pull back.

The kids know that they are responsible to themselves and to the community. They take care of each other, help each other in the classroom and out. They argue of course. They are kids. But their teachers help them find their words and work out the problems. And when that doesn't work, they find the lead teacher's office is a nice place to think.

Off we go...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

People like me

Someone was talking about Minnesota, commenting that it was a very homogeneous society, and that that could be very comforting. My sister said that it was strange and in a way comforting to go to Ireland and see almost all of the people looking like you. I have heard people talk of tracing roots to parts of Africa and seeing people who looked like them. There was a feeling of homecoming in each of these cases.

I am not sure where I fit in this, because I don't feel really comfortable with people who look like me. I do, however, feel relief when I can be around people who think like me. When I don't have to argue, to defend my basic beliefs, to define my presumptions. I suppose that is what I would call narrow-minded in someone else.

I am thinking about this now, because it is raining and my head hurts, and I feel as if my world has been redefined. What I knew is not and what I believed is questionable. I need the balm of the society of people who think like me to reassure me and revalidate me. And then I might be able to readjust.

But not today.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Normal schools, co-eds, and reverse racism

Isn't language an interesting thing?

Like how "co-educational" means men and women in a school, but the men are the students and the women are the "co-eds." This is even true at formerly all female colleges. What's with that?

In the old days, before integration, there were Normal schools and black schools. Although, I don't think they said black. Huh?

And racism means disliking someone because of their race. What is reverse racism? LIKING someone because of their race? Yet, it is used to describe a non-white person who dislikes white people. See, that's just racism. No reverse.

And how come groups that lobby for the interests of women or people of color (other than white) are SPECIAL interest groups?

All of these terms or words work on the assumption that White and Male is normal and other things are NOT.

And to conclude my musings: why can white men get away with saying that a woman or a black man couldn't represent their interests, when they have seen no problem with white men representing women and people of color (other than white) for centuries?

I'm just asking... :-)

Monday, August 4, 2008

Happy Birthday Barack!

I am trying to get my mind around having a president who is a year younger than I am. That makes me feel older than the birth of my grandson did. Hmph. My husband suggests that the solution to my discomfort is to vote for McCain, but that doesn't work for me. I guess I'll adjust.

My mother used to ask me how old I was, then announce "Wow, you're old." I'd reply, so are you old woman. It was a family tradition, handed down from her mother. I have pretty much dropped it so far. Some traditions should die, don't you think?

So Happy Birthday Barack. I hope you will be the first president who is younger than I am. A very important first... for me at least.

PS: The spell checkers need to add "Barack" to their dictionaries.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Back to School

It is almost time for school to start again and thoughts turn to ... standardized testing. Somehow that doesn't seem right, does it?

Our school is an inquiry-based, child-centered, public charter school. (Note the PUBLIC part, some people whose job it is to tend to the needs of ALL children seem to need reminding.) We started it because we support public schools, but reject the cookie-cutter, silent-lunch, accelerated-reader model that is popular. That works for some kids, but not for all. Not even for most. We wanted children to have a place where their curiosity, ingenuity, and responsibility were honored and nurtured. We wanted the learning to go on long before and long after the TEST.

Ironically, because we are new and untried, the TEST is what people see. And that is not a good thing.

Have I told you my favorite TEST story? I could scroll back and look, but I'm not going to. OK, here it is. When I was in school, I LOVED STANDARDIZED TESTS. Three or four days of silently bubbling in circles. Three or four days in which I did not have to talk to my teachers or other students. Three or four days in my element: me against the TEST. And I always won.

One year, when I was in high school, something happened. I decided I didn't want to take the TEST. I wasn't up for it. On the first day, I took the TEST but I wasn't happy about it. The second day, I was "sick." I stayed home and watched soap operas and game shows. The third day I returned with a better attitude and took the TEST some more. Sometime the next week, I got out of class to make up day two.

In all my years of test taking, the lowest I'd scored was the 97th percentile. On the day I had a bad attitude, I scored in the 86th percentile. Day three I was back up to 98th and on the make up day, I was at 99th percentile. The point is not that I am bright, or I am a good test taker (although thank you for noticing). It is that the scores were affected by a BAD MOOD. If that had been PACT or the SAT, my life could have been changed because I was in a BAD MOOD one day. And that is not a good thing.

Let me go back a bit and say, I understand and support the need for accountability in ALL schools. These are our children here. We can't subject them to the Education Fruit of the Month club and not check to see if it's working.

But who are the geniuses who make these magic tests that can tell us whether a child is learning with one test, delivered to one learning style, on one day? And to be fair to the geniuses, they don't necessarily think their test should be the end all and be all of accountability. This ain't law school.

The SC legislature, with the help of the SC Department of Education, is trying to come up with a new plan for assessing progress of students and insuring accountability of educators. Unfortunately, the legislature wants a single number they can look at and show on a 30 second television ad. They want to be able to compare apples, oranges, and roast beef. They want a definitive, concrete, cheap solution.

Bless their hearts.

But let us remember the children--- the ones today, the ones tomorrow, and the ones we once were.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


I finished Jane Eyre. It was pretty good, although I thought I'd finished it about 10 or 15 pages before Charlotte Bronte thought it was finished.

In high school, I didn't read the books I was supposed to read. Dickens or the Brontes or Henry James. I did read Jane Austen. I didn't have the patience or interest to slog through stilted formal writing. Now, I don't have much more patience, but I have the interest.

I think the main thing I take from Jane Eyre is that the world changes in some ways, but the characters are the same. Kindness, bitterness, smugness, arrogance, intolerance, fondness, curiosity.

I think it is interesting that Bronte painted the characters in a much subtler way than an author would now. I kept thinking, "How can she stand that pompous ass?" or whatever, and finally realized that was the point. Some of the characterizations are as ironic as Voltaire or Swift, but it took me longer to get it. About 30 years longer.

Now I'm going to re-read some of the books I did read when I was younger. My viewpoint has shifted, and I wonder how I will see the books I DID like as a teenager. I think they will still be great books, but I think I will be slightly less smug in my reading. One would hope.