Travel 30 Years Later

A look at 1984 and 2014 road trips

Common in 2014, cell phone cameras did not exist in 1984.

Thirty-some years ago, my husband David and I took several road trips to explore California and other areas out west. With a few exceptions, we had no itinerary that required us to be a certain place at a certain time. These were the days of Cabbage Patch Dolls and The Cosby Show, Cheers and The Golden Girls. These were the days of Reagan/Bush.

Since then, we have traveled to other countries, Japan twice and most recently Germany, where detailed planning was essential because of people we were connecting and staying with. These later trips were great adventures but we were longing for travel with no planning, with the freedom of not knowing where we would be each day and not knowing where we would sleep.

This year we took a journey with openness to serendipity. With the exception of visits to two friends on the way and a nephew’s wedding in Aspen, Colorado,with a stay at an expensive condo, the rest of our trip was wide open. The wedding was the catalyst for a five-week road trip with the opportunity to explore the four contiguous states we had never seen—Iowa, Nebraska and the Dakotas.

Some changes

Although the feeling of adventure was the same as 30 years ago, I soon realized how different this 2014 trip was from 1984. For one thing, we were carrying more prescription medicine. Physically, later years make a huge difference. But other things had changed too.

In the early 80’s, seat belts were in all cars but seat belt enforcement had not begun. On this recent trip, we were diligent about wearing them—after all, those tickets could add up. We were not so diligent about speeding, though, and when we arrived home, there was a speeding ticket for $75 from Iowa. Caught on a camera that showed there was absolutely no defense against the ticket. Speed and red light cameras have been born since our earlier trips. Years ago David got an “energy-wasting” ticket on an Arizona Indian reservation because his over-the-limit speed consumed more gas than necessary. This time, in addition to the ticket based on a speed camera, he was stopped by a police officer for speeding, not on a reservation, and was lucky enough to get off with a warning. By the way, the average cost of gas 30 years ago was 91 cents a gallon, a far cry from this summer’s $3.05 to $3.76 a gallon depending on the remoteness of the area and the tax rates. If we had had a Tesla like our California friends Nancy and Steve Ross instead of a Camry, we would have saved much money on gas and plugged in at superchargers. I guess we’re a little behind in updating technology in some cases.

Photo of Tesla charging. Courtesy of Steve Ross.

We would never have guessed years ago that a good business to invest in would be water that people paid for! This trip found us carting bottled water around in the back of our car. And if we wanted to know the outside temperature then, we stopped the car and got outside to find out that it was hot enough for discarded chewing gum to blow in the breeze and melt on my sandals. This time, all we had to do was look at the dashboard to gauge the outside temperature. We could also see how many miles we could go on our tank of gas. Sometimes, David ran this a little close with the hope of finding cheaper gas in the next town.

Navigation

Navigation and information access was also dramatically different. Then there were only paper maps for us. This time I still used AAA maps to easily see the big picture, but there was our old TomTom navigator which gave us mileage, time estimates and maps. Susan, as we named the digital voice that was guiding us, was sometimes slow and constantly changing her mind but was, for the most part, quite helpful. Of course, if we had really been up-to-date, our navigator would have been built into our car. (Some catching up to do here too.)

We also had more female company—my iPhone’s Siri. In the early 80’s we had no cell phone. To keep in touch with family at home, we had to find a pay phone. (Try to find a pay phone these days!) While driving on Interstate 70, we made calls home to check on things and friends called to check on us. On this trip, we could connect my iPhone to our Camry’s car speaker through Bluetooth and ask Siri questions like, “How wide is Nebraska?” or “Where is a Holiday Inn Express nearby?” Then she would ask if we would like directions or would we like her to call the hotel. She dialed and we could book rooms from the car on the way to the next town where we would stay that night.

On this trip in 2014, we could use reward points for free stays at the Holiday Inn Express. In the lobby of a hotel where we wanted to sleep that night, David used his cell phone to talk with someone at the chain’s 800 number to get the best price. Then he often managed to get us an upgrade by showing the clerk in the lobby his Priority Club card. We managed to stay free for eight nights this time, many of them upgraded rooms.

Satellite screen capture from my phone.
As a passenger, I had an enhanced view of our journey—I could look out the car windows but I could also use my iPhone to see a satellite view as we drove along. Wow! My friend Brycia at home suggested that I use the app “Find My Friends” so she could follow us vicariously as she watered our newly planted trees and filled our bird feeders at home.
In the early 80’s, we had no laptop and hotels did not offer Internet connection. We just were not there yet with technology. And when we traveled in the late 90’s with a laptop, many hotels had no Internet connection and those that did charged for it. This time I could check e-mail and go on the Internet from my car as long as there was a cell tower close enough for connection. Most hotels/motels now provide free Wi-Fi and if it was not good, I could use the hot spot option on my phone. Back home in the early 80’s, we had a Commodore 64 for the kids and a Kaypro which I used to send the text of my photo columns to the Baltimore Evening Sun using a landline phone cradle to transmit data at 300-bauds.
Although David insisted on bringing along some CD’s for music in the car, he did not have to. I have a collection of music downloaded from iTunes on my phone which plays through the car’s speakers via Bluetooth. Maybe he just did not like my selection of New Age sounds. When we realized we had missed an episode of the Colbert Report, I connected to the Internet on my phone as we were driving along and played it for us to listen to on the car’s speakers. David did talk about the advantages of getting Sirius satellite radio for the car in the future so we could always find NPR.

Photography

I always take lots of photos on our trips but much has changed. Years ago, I carried Kodachrome and Tri-X film for my two Nikon FE cameras and then had to wait eagerly to see the developed slides and contact sheets after we returned. Now instant gratification rules and I love it. On this trip I could shoot photos with my Nikon D800 and see them immediately. Or I could shoot with my iPhone and upload immediately to Facebook. Later, on the laptop, David wrote blogs and used some of my photos.
Unlike the early 80’s, in the days of the 20-cent stamps for letters, we did not need to send postcards to our digitally connected friends who followed us on Facebook. However, we did send postcards almost daily to my unconnected, nearly 93-year-old father who these days gets the remote control confused with his cordless phone.
A selfie postagram sent from cell phone while driving.

The amazing thing though was that we did not have to buy stamps and find a mailbox. What’s more, the postcards were my original photos, often those with us smiling into my iPhone for a selfie, a word that did not enter our vocabulary until 2013. I took photos on my iPhone, opened the Postagram app, added the photo, wrote a message, chose the recipient and paid 99 cents charged to my credit card. And all this while on the road. My father then received a printed original postcard in the mail. Talk about convenient, not to mention price! The cost of a stamp for letters today is 49 cents and for postcards 34 cents while generic scenery post cards run 50 cents and up.

If I had remembered to set my Apple TV wall frame before we left, I could even have sent my photos to the frame for when we walked into the house at the end of our trip.

Yes, thirty years have brought many changes in travel style for our road trips. One thing however, that has not changed was the warmth and friendliness of people we met along the way then and now. For those details, you’ll have to read David’s blogs:

Kansas

http://ettlin.blogspot.com/2014/09/on-road-again-part-13.html

Colorado
http://ettlin.blogspot.com/2014/09/on-road-again-part-12.html

Montana and Wyoming
http://ettlin.blogspot.com/2014/09/on-road-again-part-11.html

North Dakota
http://ettlin.blogspot.com/2014/09/on-road-again-part-10.html

South Dakota
http://ettlin.blogspot.com/2014/09/on-road-again-part-9.html

Redig South Dakota Post Office
http://ettlin.blogspot.com/2014/09/on-road-again-part-8.html

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Posted in 1984, 2014, Bluetooth, cell phone, digital, gasoline, Internet, iPhone, navigator, Postagram, postcards, price, road trip, Siri, speed cameras, technology, travel, USA, west, Wi-Fi | 2 Comments

Building B at the MVA

Waiting at the MVA


Seems like it was just two years ago but the Motor Vehicle Administration of Maryland informs me that after eight years, it is time to renew my license. They also tell me that I need to do it in person. I assume it is because I need a new photo even if I still look the same as I did eight years ago.
I expect about an hour wait and make the logical assumption that the best time to go is in the middle of the day. People working 9-5 might go into work late after going to the MVA or they might leave work early to get there before 4:30 when they close.
As I enter the Glen Burnie parking lot, signs tell me that I need to go to Building B. I do not have to drive around very long before I find a parking space. My logic looks good.
Entering the building, I am assaulted by a sea of bodies sitting on metal benches, 13 stations that I note immediately and two monitors. I am forced to look far to my right, in an illogical spot, to discover the information line. It moves quickly, I tell the clerk that I am there for license renewal and she hands me a printed  slip of paper with the number B 100.
I find an empty seat on one of the benches with the backrest angled way too far back. I would find out soon that maybe there was some thought put into the bench design. Maybe people could more easily take a nap, although I don’t see how anyone could take a nap in that environment and I do not notice anyone doing so.

The Alphabet Lineup

Every few minutes, an automatic voice announces, “Now serving [a letter and number] at counter [1-15].”  The problem I notice right away is that none of the letters is B, mine. The sounds of the letters run together. Why do they choose letters that sound the same, especially with an automated voice? BCDEGPTVZ all sound the same as do XFS, IY, MN and JK. Why don’t they choose letters that do not sound like one another such as AHLOQRUW? I begin to wish they had decided on the lettersBINGO. At least the letters do not sound the same and I could imagine my bingo chips in a straight row.
I do not look at the monitors after I notice rapidly changing images and text. Why should I submit myself to advertising and public service announcements? After I begin to confuse the sounds of T with G and V  and the sound of F with S, I look at the monitors again. There in large letters on the left monitor is the number being serviced and the station that is servicing it. Duh! That must be for the sound challenged people like me and for the numerous Latino people waiting on the benches with me. I spend a few minutes looking at the content. Each ad flashes on the screen for about ten seconds while the service number that is announced flashes large on the screen for about seven or eight seconds before it moves over to the smaller list on the left. Advertising receives priority even at the MVA.
Now I notice the sequence of numbers: T 524, G 47, G 48, S 33, V 68. Some of the T’s are three-digit numbers while some have only two digits. Makes no sense. And where are the B’s? I want to hear them buzzing. I figure the different numbers stand for various categories of MVA business and eventually I hear a few B’s. It is disconcerting, however, that the B numbers are around B 34 when I arrived while my slip of paper shows B 100. My optimistic brain tells me that I might be waiting an hour and a half rather than the hour I was expecting. Thank goodness for my iPhone and a water fountain in the back.

Wait Time Outlasts Battery

After an hour and a half, I hear B 71 but this is in the middle of many other letters. By the time I hear T 43, my phone is down to 40% battery power. K 17 is annouced in Spanish but the other K’s are not. How do they know they need to announce that one K in Spanish but not the other K’s? Right after T 525, a middle-aged blond woman storms out of B Building yelling, “Fucking stupid! Dumb jerk!” No one pays much attention because their thoughts are also filled with four-letter words in the discomfort of their long wait.
By the time K 14 is announced and not long before B 55, my phone is down to 29% power. Then at T 52, the low battery warning pops up. That’s when I turn my Mophie charger/case switch to green to juice my phone before the battery dies. I hear B 96 just before a man sits close enough to me that I immediately know he is a heavy smoker, but I can now feel the light at the end of the tunnel and I don’t move.
B 100! Bingo! I unfold my body and walk to station #2 as directed and find a pleasant MVA employee handling my license renewal. She takes my photo which looks just like I feel inside and offers to take another one. The second looks a lot worse than the one on my old license. Could it be that I am ten pounds heavier and eight years older or could it be that the color their equipment turns out is so poor that I look jaundiced?

Advice

When I ask about the wait time, the nice woman putting together my new license explains that the letters stand for different types of business that people are there for such as learners’ permits, name changes and other details. For some reason the learners’ permits get through faster because of earlier closing for that category. As a result, there are more employees handling B numbers, license renewals, later in the day after the learners’ permits are finished.

She says that early, just before the MVA opens at 8 a.m. or late, around 4:20 just before they close the doors at 4:30, are the best times to come for shorter wait times. This I learn after little more than 2 ½ hours waiting to renew my license. At least I can warn my husband—his renewal is next.

So much for my theory about the middle of the day at MVA.

 

Posted in Glen Burnie, long wait, Maryland, Motor Vehicle Administration, MVA | Leave a comment

Road Trip

Husband David and I are on a road trip. We are exploring four of six states we have not seen–Iowa, Nebraska, and the Dakotas. When we return, that will leave Alaska and Hawaii and then we’ll be able to say we have visited all 50 states. Of course, there will be much we have missed but–hey–we can always go back, right?

This trip was different in many ways than the 1984 road trip we took:

http://bjschupp.blogspot.com/2014/09/travel-30-years-later.html

David is writing a blog and using my photos. Follow us in the links below:

Colorado
http://ettlin.blogspot.com/2014/09/on-road-again-part-12.html

Montana and Wyoming
http://ettlin.blogspot.com/2014/09/on-road-again-part-11.html

North Dakota
http://ettlin.blogspot.com/2014/09/on-road-again-part-10.html

South Dakota
http://ettlin.blogspot.com/2014/09/on-road-again-part-9.html

Redig South Dakota Post Office
http://ettlin.blogspot.com/2014/09/on-road-again-part-8.html

Posted in Bonnie Schupp, Colorado, David Ettlin, Iowa, meeting people, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, road trip, roadside attractions, South Dakota, travel, USA, Wyoming | Leave a comment

Advice to Bride and Groom

Advice from Bonnie Schupp (me) and David Ettlin (my husband) to bride and groom. We have been married for 34 years so we have had time to test out this advice!..
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Posted in advice, Bonnie Schupp, bride, David Ettlin, groom, relationships, wedding | 2 Comments

Education Reform Wears Blinders – Part 1


Dr. Bonnie J. Schupp, retired educator, taught in Baltimore City, Annapolis and Pasadena, Maryland.

Youth Dreamers display at Artscape © Bonnie J. Schupp 2014
Trends come and go
Sadly, our culture has become one with short-attention spans spurred on by technology of limited character tweets and television styles catering to a focus limit of 1 ½ minutes. I see this in the field of education also with policy makers. Every 5-10 years a new educational trend explodes—and then disappears quietly. Remember those students who were not taught phonics but rather whole language alone? Remember learning centers? Remember cooperative learning, the comprehensive (bigger) high school model, A Nation at Risk Effective Schools, Madeline Hunter’s SPONGE, Standards Based Education, and schools within schools? Now we have Common Core. There has always been and will always be endless streams of new initiatives in public schools.

By the time I left education, teachers had to write the class objective (in educational terms) daily on the board, students read it at the beginning of the class and then repeated what they learned at the end of class. Just before I retired in 2003 to complete work on my doctorate, another disturbing trend was on the horizon. Middle school students did not understand how damaging a zero could be to their average. (Every year I always spent a half hour at the beginning of school doing math with my students to show what happens.) According to the school system, the solution was that teachers could not give a grade below 50 to students, even when they failed to do the work. Needless to say, a subtle negative message goes out to students when they get credit for doing no work.

Those who lead education always seem to be wearing blinders. They see in a narrow and shallow way that limits their understanding of the breadth and depth needed to educate children.

Contrary to Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Obama’s Race to the Top, there are no quick fixes in education. It is incredible that so many people believe that we merely have to raise standardized test scores by a certain date and everything will be okay. Even more incredible, they believe that teachers bear all responsibility for fixing things and that they should be rewarded or punished based on the test scores of their students.

(Read this humorous piece about what would happen if we held dentists responsible for their patients’ cavities: http://bloomingjourney.blogspot.com/2002/02/httpwww.html )


There is no shortage of articles and books about what is wrong with American public schools and I will include links at the end of this blog. Bottom line is that trends come and go, many fail, and our students could be more successful if teachers were just allowed to teach.

Today, standardized tests are driving curriculum and our children are the losers. When I won a Fulbright Memorial Teachers Fund trip to Japan and visited classrooms there, I saw the effects of a test-driven curriculum. Japanese students were tested only on reading and writing in their English classes. Since spoken English was not tested, they were not taught much spoken English. Even some of their teachers could not speak much English. It is interesting that Japan and the United States seem to be switching approaches to education these days. We are focusing on tests while they are changing focus to the whole child.
Teaching before the test worship
I am disturbed about the trend to eliminate certain subjects that do not relate directly to the tests. People who are not teachers and who are driving education reform do not see the big picture. School subjects overlap and reinforce one another. For example, one of the novels I taught in 7th grade was The Cay by Theodore Taylor. These are just of few of the skills and concepts I covered, often skills that are focused on in other subjects:

  • Reading and drawing maps; creating and interpreting symbols 
  •  History – World War II 
  •  Global cultures 
  •  Cause and effect 
  •  Point-of-view 
  •  Empathy 
  •  Finding patterns 
  •  Summarizing 
  •  Vocabulary 
  •  Connotation and denotation 
  • Meaning in context 
  •  Survival skills; prioritizing 
  •  Weather 
  •  Punctuation 
  •  Music 
  •  Main idea and supporting details 
  •  Predicting 
  •  Figurative language 
  •  Inference 
  •  Connection between setting and characters 
  •  Story structure 
  •  Dialect
  • Multiculturalism
  • Reasoning
When we completed our study, the elements of Bloom’s taxonomy (knowledge, understanding, application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation) had been incorporated into student learning. My students received an education with breadth and depth.

The newest educational trend today is Common Core. I have no problem with setting standards, benchmarks of learning for each grade. However, as usual in education, a good idea becomes distorted when it is implemented. There is a lack of emphasis on social studies and science. Common Core language arts lessons are structured for each day of a six-week unit. On paper, some of it looks good. In practice, there are glitches—special student needs, fire drills, absences, classroom fights, special school functions and more. I may be wrong, but it appears to be strictly scripted with little flexibility for spontaneity and creativity that promise to connect students with learning in meaningful ways.
How does testing hurt our children’s education?
This answer was clear to me close to the end of my teaching career.  We teachers had to teach for the tests.  When I began teaching in 1967, I floundered the first year and then, with practice, became a better teacher. After teaching in Baltimore City, Annapolis and finally in Pasadena (Maryland), I had become a more effective teacher than when I started, but by the time I retired, I had no time to put my skills into practice. The joy of teaching had been replaced with teaching for standardized tests.
Youth Dreamers display at Artscape © Bonnie J. Schupp 2014
This test focus results in:
  • loss of in-depth instructional time in the class 
  •  removal of curriculum/classes that are not part of the testing program 
  •  millions of dollars spent on testing when that money could be more effectively used for real education 
  •  loss of the joy of learning 
  •  misleading assessments of learning 
  • teaching children to be good test takers rather than educating them 
  • the belief that test scores tell all
When teaching was fun and successful
Before the testing craze, I taught a unit on heroes, which was part of the 7th grade curriculum. It involved teaching reading and writing skills through literature, non-fiction and fiction. The first lesson involved trying together to define what a hero was. Such a fun lesson. My students read stories of real-life heroes from all cultures. I used newspaper articles. Through role-playing, I introduced the good Samaritan concept and shared a Scholastic Scope article for which I had taken the photo many years ago. It was about an inner-city youth who might have been considered a good Samaritan, maybe a hero.  http://bonnieschupp.com/Victor.jpg

One of the available novels for this unit was an age-appropriate version of Beowulf. It offered a platform for teaching many reading and writing skills and some great thinking skills too. Good versus evil. Monsters. Bloody fights. These things captured my middle school students but there were many subtle things that I taught. Students were saying, “Yea, Grendel, the mean monster was killed.” We could look at the issue of bullying. We could also address empathy when Grendel’s mother took revenge for her monster son’s murder. We discussed how she must have felt and students had to write a piece from the mother’s perspective. One of my 7th-grade students (he had failed twice and should have been in 9th grade) told me that this was the first book in his life that he had ever read through to the end.
Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.”—Indian Prover
Also, with this unit, my students produced original books. I divided them into carefully selected groups, keeping in mind each student’s strengths and weaknesses. I gave them specific instruction as to what elements had to be in this book: a story of a hero who fit into the definition of a hero that we had come up with, illustrations, bios of the students in the group who produced this book, etc. When they finished, group members received a copies of their book. It was a lot of work as a teacher—and an exhausting process—but I did it because I witnessed my students’ enthusiasm as they learned and grew.  

Years later, when teaching for the test mandated that I drop this activity, a young man approached me at back-to-school night.

“Hi, Ms. Schupp, do you remember me?”

From the beginning of 7th-grade to the end, students change so much that they often look like different children.  It had been several years since I had taught him.

“You look a lot different now. I’m going to need some help.”

“John _____. Ms. Schupp, your class was my favorite.”

Yes, I remembered him. His attendance record had been poor and led to his failure in my class. Yet, my class had been his favorite?

“I’m glad to hear that. Why was it your favorite?”
“Remember those books we made in your class? Well, I still keep it in my room and read it now and then.”

In today’s punish-the-teacher-for-student-failure culture, I would be considered a bad teacher. After all, this student (who seldom came to school) had failed my class. However, my class had been his favorite and I succeeded in making him proud of one of his accomplishments. This is only one thing that standardized test scores do not measure.

Also, along with this heroes unit, the other 7th-grade language arts teacher and I included a medieval feast day because we had read about King Arthur in a historical setting. Students were assigned research topics to help them prepare for this special day: medieval clothing, food, games, beliefs, customs, castles, music. Then on the big day, during each class period, we met in the “banquet hall” (the school’s multi-purpose room), did role-playing with royalty, jesters, costumes, food, music, games. We usually had more parents who helped with this event than who showed up on parent conference day. Educational? Yes. A success? Yes, on many levels.

When testing became the focus, there was no longer time for this event.
Youth Dreamers display at Artscape © Bonnie J. Schupp 2014
The trouble with tests
Besides being limited in what can be assessed, test culture takes money away from other areas that count. Testing is a moneymaking industry: producing tests, tutoring, testing services and more.

Tests do not give a complete and accurate picture and they are not used effectively.  Furthermore, students are not held accountable. The tests aim at basic functional skills while we should be aiming higher. Most are given during the school year with results coming back so late that current teachers have no time to respond to them in instruction. They do not take into account student motivation. I observed close hand how my students responded to these tests and many put in no or little effort. Middle school student thinking is askew at that age. Some who dislike their teacher will actually make no attempt to do well so they can “get back” at their teacher. After all, students have no consequences for their test scores.
Parents also have no consequences. Some 12-year-olds get themselves up and “ready” for school. Some parents have no parenting skills. I have observed parents picking their children up from school, smoking, and handing over a cigarette to their children. Sometimes, parents would show up at school to continue fights their children got into with other children. In some cases, education is devalued. In the middle of the school year, parents take their children to Disney World for a week at a time. Never mind that important skills are being taught in class that week. They ask teachers to send home worksheets a week ahead so, between Space Mountain and Jungle Cruise, their children can quickly fill in answers.

Teachers should never be rewarded or punished based on student test scores. Although a teacher is important, there are too many other factors that play a part.
Learning the buttons but not getting it
In photography, a person can learn all the buttons on the camera, navigate the digital menu with skill, take a perfectly sharp and exposed photo, ace a photography test BUT still be a mediocre or poor photographer.

Education, whether it is learning how to take photos or learning school subjects such as math, English, social studies or science, is about more than learning facts. These isolated facts must be connected with living and all the emotional layers that make up life. They must connect with communication with yourself, your world and others. If education does not venture into these less obvious areas, it is a skeleton with no place to go except the grave.

A certain spirit must drive true education.
No instant gratification
Learning is a long and difficult process with incremental improvements over many years. It is complicated and lives in many layers.  Problems in education cannot be fixed in one or even in five years. Some shallow thinkers believe we can reward and punish teachers and student test scores will go up. Not everything is based on teachers’ skills. The education of a child is complicated and solutions are multi-faceted.

Students do not come to the classroom as empty vessels ready to be filled with knowledge. They bring a lot of baggage with them. There are issues of poverty, housing, unemployment, health needs, social problems, dysfunctional families. They come to school at many levels regarding family attitude and support toward education.

The blame for problems in education does not lie with any one group of people or one thing: teachers, administrators, students, society. We have to stop over-simplifying the problem and trying to fix it by focusing on only one area or assessing with only one tool. This reminds me of the adage: If the only tool you have is a hammer, then all your problems will look like nails.

And we have to stop believing that non-educators know the answers.
Solution: Class size IS important
Bill Gates has said that class size does not matter. He is wrong! Consider the math in a language arts teacher’s life.  If I have 30 students for 50 minutes, that leaves just a little more than a minute to give individual attention to each student in my room. It also means that if I give a writing assignment and spend five minutes assessing it for each of my 150 students (five classes each day), then I will spend 12 ½ hours grading only one assignment, one practice test. That is beside planning lessons, parent conferences, graduate classes at night and trying to have a personal family life. Bill Gates may have made a lot of money but any underpaid teacher knows that he does not know what he is talking about when he says that class size does not matter. He may be a good businessman, but he is no educator.

(p. 275) In 2010, Gates advised the National Governors Association that states could save money by not paying extra for advanced degrees or experience and by increasing class size for the best teachers, the ones whose students get higher test scores. He stated that the ‘evidence’ showed that seniority seemed to have no effect on student achievement after a teacher’s first few years. He did not explain how American education would get better if teachers had less education, less experience, and larger classes.” (The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education, by Diane Ravitch)

Teaching conditions and climate are more important to some teachers than pay, although paying professional teachers well would show that society values them, maybe not as much as famous sports figures though. Teachers need to feel effective and appreciated. They need to feel empowered.
Solution: A multi-faceted approach is important
To improve education, we have to stop listening to policy makers who do not know the answers and begin to look at a broad spectrum of issues from the bottom-up.  The local school community—parents, teachers, students—must all be involved. The homes that students come from need to be considered and social services offered, counseling, education, mentors.  We must listen to the voices of teachers who can do a better job with small classes, teaching assistants, and a strong curriculum not driven by tests. School systems need to recognize that teaching for the tests hurts students’ education by devaluing other subjects, by taking up too much time that could be used for real teaching and by providing a distorted assessment. 

Subjects other than language arts and math are also important. Excellent teacher training in college should include mandatory internship as student teachers. First-year teachers need the support of mentors. School systems need to include experienced teachers in policy-making.

Change must come from the bottom-up. So far, it has failed from the top-down.

School systems need to spend much less money on test materials, preparation, text books and in-service test training for teachers and instead put more money into creating fertile classrooms that lay the groundwork for learning more than how to take tests. 

Let’s not be distracted by the false data god. 

(Photos taken at Baltimore’s Artscape. More information about the post-it note inspiration here: http://www.youthdreamers.org/pages/book.html)

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More of my writing on education:

American Visionary Art Museum’s Educational Goals

Other reading of interest:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ashoka/2013/02/15/how-should-we-rebuild-the-u-s-education-system/ 

Posted in Bill Gates, blame, data, Diane Ravitch, education, No Child Left Behind, problem, Race to the Top, school reform, students, teachers, test scores, testing | Leave a comment

Education Reform Wears Blinders – Part 2

A look at the American education system and the testing issue: The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education, by Diane Ravitch, 2011 by Basic Books, New York.

There is an outcry among many people that our educational system needs reform but there is much disagreement about causes and how to fix it. Ravitch’s book takes a good look at this issue and how testing is hurting our students.

I embrace technology but I am afraid that technology has played a large role in the state of the educational system. Actually, it is the ability of technology to generate data that is partially responsible for our problems. Ravitch says that we cannot improve our schools by blind worship of data.

(p. 281) The biggest risk of putting too much faith in tests and their data is in forgetting that test scores are an indicator, not the goal of education. ..It’s good to have data to guide policy, but it is important not to confuse data with evidence.

No Child Left Behind

But this is where we are now. Too many people, those in decision-making positions, are using data to drive education with the idea that schools should run like businesses.  No Child Left Behind has hurt education. The attitude that whatever could not be measured did not count (p. 21) has led to neglect of social studies, science and the arts in our schools. Teachers know very well how different subjects work together to help educate the whole child. They learn math in language arts, social studies, music, art and industrial arts (shop). They practice reading skills in all of these classes too. Students also are exposed to discipline, creativity, focus and the joy of learning—things not assessed on functional standardized tests.

(p. 29) The only vision No Child Left Behind (NCLB) had was improving test scores in reading and math. It produced mountains of data, not educated citizens. Its advocates then treated data as evidence of its success.

For several years before I retired from teaching language arts,  students had to take functional reading and writing tests. It’s not that I object to teaching students how to read and write but that we are only focusing on “functional.” I was already doing that and more until that 4-letter word—test—became a demi-god. From the beginning of the school year, we had to teach the test jargon, give practice tests, assess the practice tests, review, give another practice test, and then repeat it all again. I could see the light go out of my students’ eyes, students who used to like school and had some connection with it. And I could certainly feel my light dim. I became bored teaching for the test.  

(p. 229) The overemphasis on test scores to the exclusion of other important goals of education may actually undermine the love of learning and the desire to acquire knowledge, both necessary ingredients of intrinsic motivation.

Principals felt the threat. If their school did not perform well on the tests, then their school might be closed. Teachers would be let go. You see, with the belief that data, test scores, were so important, was the belief that teachers were the key to everything. If their students did not do well, it was the teachers’ fault. Never mind that some students existed in dysfunctional families. Never mind that their parents did not know how to be parents. Never mind that some parents took their kids out of school, in the middle of test preparation, to go to Disney World. Never mind that students were never taught a work ethic and that they were unmotivated. If they did not improve their test scores, it was the fault of the teachers.

(p. 162) …the authors of the law forgot that parents are primarily responsible for their children’s behavior and attitudes. It is families that do or do not ensure that their children attend school regularly, that they are in good health, that they do their homework, and that they are encouraged to read and learn. But in the eyes of the law, the responsibility of the family disappears. Something is wrong with that. Something is fundamentally wrong with an accountability system that disregards the many factors that influence students’ performance on an annual test—including the students’ own efforts—except for what teachers do in the classroom for forty-five minutes or an hour a day.

The test scene gives birth to gaming the system. Teachers spend all their time teaching for tests. Some cheat. Students learn how to become good test takers. States lower the standards so students will look better on the tests. (p. 106)

The business of education?

Many non-educators think that the solution is to run schools like businesses. We have to produce products for consumers.  That is an appalling concept to me and to most teachers—people who are never consulted about how to educate children. The people who are in power are most often not educators. They are politicians and business people. Bill Gates has had a tremendous influence on the direction our educational system has taken.

(p. 259) Bill Gates is not an educator but his wealth has given him an audience of those who have political power and who control policy making. He gave millions of dollars, make that billions of dollars, to school districts to try educational approaches that he thought would help solve educational problems.  He convinced people that the students who got the highest test scores had the most effective teachers and that teachers with students who received low test scores should be fired.  Test data was of most importance because Gates, the businessman, wanted measurable results from educational systems. His money bought advocates and their support.

To demonstrate how far he is afield, the Gates foundation spent millions of dollars videotaping thousands of teachers. The idea was to analyze the tapes and design a template for effective teaching.  As if a business mass production model would work in a classroom setting of 30 individual little human beings!

(pp. 228-228) Our schools will not improve if we expect them to act like private, profit-seeking enterprises. School are not businesses; they are a public good. The goal of education is not to produce higher scores, but to educate children to become responsible people with well-developed minds and good character. Schools should not be expected to turn a profit in the form of value-added scores. The unrelenting focus on data that has become commonplace in recent years is distorting the nature and quality of education.

For those non-educators who believe in the reward/punishment tactic for teachers, they do not understand much about teaching or those who go into this field. Most are motivated by idealism, a feeling that what they are doing is important and that they can make a difference.

Education goals can border on the ridiculous, totally out of sync with what is possible.

(p. 103) Impossible goals are set. For example, NCLB indicated that all students (100%) would meet proficiency level or schools and teachers would suffer consequences. This is the same as saying that all pollution will vanish by 2014 or that all American cities will be crime-free by then. If it didn’t happen, though, no public official would be punished. In education, if it doesn’t happen, then schools will be closed and teachers will be fired.

For that matter, why do non-educators have so much influence in decision-making about our educational system?

(p. 225) Our schools will not improve if elected officials intrude into pedagogical territory and make decisions that properly should be made by professional educators. Congress and state legislatures should not tell teachers how to teach, any more than they should tell surgeons how to perform operations. Nor should the curriculum of the schools be the subject of a political negotiation among people who are neither knowledgeable about teaching nor well educated. Pedagogy—that is, how to teach—is rightly the professional domain of individual teachers. Curriculum—that is, what to teach—should be determined by professional educators and scholars, after due public deliberation, acting with the authority vested in them by schools, districts, or states.

We are setting ourselves up for failure.
(227-228) “Our schools will not improve if we expect them to act like private, profit-seeking enterprises. Schools are not businesses; they are a public good. The goal of education is not to produce higher scores, but to educate children to become responsible people with well-developed minds and good character. Schools should not be expected to turn a profit in the form of value-added scores. The unrelenting focus on data that has become commonplace in recent years is distorting the nature and quality of education.

Global comparisons

When comparing American schools with schools in other developed countries, Marc Tucker, National Center on Education and the Economy, says that we are on the wrong track.

(p. 282)  …the education strategies now most popular in the United States are conspicuous by their absence in the countries with the most successful education systems. Charter schools, vouchers, annual grade-by-grade testing with multiple-choice standardized tests, closing schools with low scores, and evaluating teachers according to their students’ scores: All of that, Tucker writes, is irrelevant. What the top nations in the world have done and we have not is recruited the best prospective teachers—not for a few years like Teach for America, but for a full and satisfying career as teachers and administrators. Teachers in these nations are highly respected professionals with competitive compensation, high-quality professional training in elite institutions, and broad professional autonomy in the workplace. Each of these top nations has a broad national curriculum that includes the arts and music, social sciences, and other subjects. Teachers master the expectations of the national curriculum (it does not tell teachers how to teach, but describes in general terms what will be taught).
No other country tests students every year as we do in grades 3-8 or assesses their teachers by their students’ test scores. We lead all other countries in the number of changes we have mandated in education over the past decade.

 

Bottom line

We are turning out trained test takers rather than educated human beings and, although students might ultimately obtain higher test scores, they may be receiving a worse education.

Posted in Bill Gates, blame, data, Diane Ravitch, education, No Child Left Behind, problem, Race to the Top, school reform, students, teachers, test scores, testing, The Death and Life of the Great American School System | Leave a comment

Camera Lens Incites Paranoia

The lens incites paranoia.

In the past 40 years or so, I have experienced other people’s paranoia because I shoot lots of photos–innocent and not intrusive or pornographic, mind you.This paranoia seems to be growing with the ubiquity of cameras for everyone, via their mobile phones.

In 2011 when I read about a man who was stopped by Maryland Transit Administration officers for taking photos of the Baltimore light rail, I was upset. This is the United States and it alarms me when I see things like this happen. It reminded me of a friend who traveled to the then USSR and was told that photos of transportation systems were illegal. And then there was another friend who traveled to her native country, Iran, and took a photo of an ornate gold gate, the entrance to a police station. She was hauled inside and questioned for hours because she took a photo of a pretty gate.

Past encounters

Many years ago, I was stopped at Baltimore’s Harbor Place by a zealous guard who told me I could not take photos there. After writing down the name of the guard, I wrote to the Rouse Company and received a reply saying that the guard had over-reacted and that I was free to take photos there.

Also, many years ago, I was on the street outside Mercy Hospital and was taking photos of the pattern formed by a lighted staircase that I could see through the glass windows. A guard came out of the hospital to tell my friend and me that we could not take photos of the hospital from the street. Needless to say, we told him that we had a right to do this on public property.

Sometimes, although I don’t agree, I can understand an objection. A few years ago, I was at an annual Robot Fest in Linthicum, Maryland. As a favor, I was taking photos of the event for one of the organizers, a friend. I took a photo of a child interacting with one of the special exhibits and immediately encountered a father who questioned my motives and demanded that I delete the photo of his daughter. Although I believe he over-reacted, I obliged. If it upset him, then I would certainly help alleviate his concern.

Pictures in the park?

Recently, during a low-key afternoon weekday photography session at my local Downs Park with a fellow camera club photographer and two modeling friends, we were approached by a park ranger and informed of “procedures for professional photographers” requiring pre-approval by the superintendent “for each occurrence.” We were told officials were concerned that professionals are making money by using the park setting.

Although I really do not understand why they would be concerned because everyone has to pay park entrance fees, we told the ranger that we were not paying our model friends nor were they paying us.

Having taken photographs at this park two miles from my home for more than 30 years, and supported it through county property taxes and the purchase of county parks passes–annually at first, and in more recent years holding a lifetime senior pass–I was disturbed at the implication that we were doing something requiring special permission.

Need to get permission to photograph in a park?

Photography is one of the most popular pastimes in America, and these days people can take high-quality images with tiny cameras, mobile phones and iPads–or, as we preferred in taking people pictures, with Nikon equipment and hand-held light reflectors.

This activity on a hot weekday afternoon, with relatively few visitors in the park, took place in a public area and did not restrict access to any area of the park by anyone.

I was handed a slip of paper listing “procedures for professional photographers”–although the ranger had no way of determining whether we were professional or amateur photographers–except, perhaps, making an assumption based on the use of a hand-held light reflector and our expensive cameras.

The concerns that were listed noted that activity cannot restrict public access–and, in fact, we did not limit access for anyone. If further stated that “the Park Superintendent and/or ranking staff in his/her absence has authority to deny or halt any activity they deem inappropriate or a hinder to the general public at anytime with no explanation.”

I would like to know what was inappropriate about two female photographers–or, for that matter, any photographer–taking tasteful photos in a public park. Was the use of a light reflector inappropriate? Or was it, as one of our model friends wondered, the fact that they are African-American in a county park where diversity is rather minimal?

The “procedures” also stated that the photographer and “clients” have to purchase permits or an entry fee to enter the park. Well, I have that. It covers the entry for my car and its passengers.

I often take my video camera and tripod to photograph nature in the park. Would this video camera with an external microphone and the use of a tripod (off the path) create suspicion? Would I need to notify the park every time I do this? I often do this on the spur of the moment, depending on weather and my schedule. Would I not be allowed to do this if the office were closed because it would be impossible to receive “pre-approval?”

While the ranger was polite and stated that the activity under way could continue on this particular visit, I object vociferously to the suggestion that this should ever require advance approval from the park superintendent. 

I could see a concern should a movie crew turn up with a truckload of equipment — but four people with two cameras and a light reflector?  After my experience, I met another woman in this county who had had a similar encounter. She was photographing her grandson with her expensive camera and was told that it was illegal and she had to leave. She left. Where has common sense gone?

Public parks are for our enjoyment, not harrassment.
The county parks system should be encouraging photography and all art, not interfering with it. What about an artist who might set up an easel and later sell those paintings of the park? Will this artist also have to jump through the bureaucratic hoops? If indeed I were ever to make some money from photos taken in the park, that would benefit the county—by increasing my local income tax.

I believe that Downs Park in Pasadena, Maryland is a treasure. In the past I have taken hundreds, if not thousands, of images  of and at Downs Park. Before my retirement as a county teacher, I conducted student photography outings there. One book that I found on Amazon.com mentions Downs Park as influencing successful projects of my students. I have participated in park photo contests. When talking with friends, I have often credited Downs Park for helping me maintain balance while teaching middle school during the day, walking two miles on trails in the park and then going to graduate school at night. Obviously, that day there was no balance for me at Downs Park.

Increasingly, I have seen growing government and business intrusion in ordinary and reasonable activity, and find that disturbing. The Downs Park incident made me wonder whether county officials know who they work for. Answer: The public.
By the way, I wrote to the Anne Arundel County Executive and the director of parks who wrote back that the ranger had been overly zealous. But the park system appears not to have changed its policy on photography, judging by what happened to the woman with her grandchild. If you hear of any other cases like this in Maryland, please send let me know.
A terrorist?
Today, a photographer friend sent me a link to a disturbing story about James Prigoff, an 86-year-old photographer who was tracked down by an FBI counterterrorism agent because Prigoff had taken some photos of public art near Boston while he was standing on public property. This story is outrageous and the ACLU has filed a lawsuit which challenges the government’s Suspicious Acitivity Reporting program :


A photographer’s rights
Here is a helpful PDF link on an attorney’s Web site about a photographer’s rights, what you should know when you are stopped or confronted for taking photos.
We photographers–in fact, everyone– need to be informed and to insist on our rights.

Posted in Baltimore, legal, light rail, Maryland, parks, photographer's rights, photographers, photography, rights | 2 Comments