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Things I Will Miss

Your little boy legs
Pumping so fast as you run
To school each morning

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Piano Recital

This Saturday, Will is going to perform a group piano piece, with ten pairs of kids playing the same song. There are also going to be a lot of other performances at the recital, which we will sit through as we always do. Sigh. At least some of them will be good.

In this case, the annoying thing is that Will was supposed to practice with his duet partner. Apparently his parents could never make our 4 pm practice time, so three weeks ago we were supposed to show up at their 6:30 practice time and adjusted our plans accordingly. Then they cancelled at the last minute. At least we got a phone call from the instructor. Two weeks ago the piano teacher was out of town, so no lessons. This week we showed up at their time again, only to wait around and have them not show again. Turns out their kid was sick, but he got sick on Monday and the mom only thought to call and cancel the piano appointment late on Tuesday afternoon, and the piano teacher has lessons booked for several hours and didn’t get the message until after we had been there for 20 minutes! (Certainly the piano teacher dropped the ball there a bit as well.)

Fine. There was some talk of trying to squeeze in one practice together in the remaining days of this week. I had my doubts. Wednesday and Thursday go by. Then the mom calls us late last night and wants to set up a practice for 4:30 Friday.

Now, my wife was irritated because of the less than 24 hours notice and the fact that these people were asking us to accommodate them for a third time. So she said no, even though we could have juggled things and made it (our son has been singing in the choir of a school play for the past two days and could use a rest, admittedly).

I simply didn’t want to have Will sitting next to a kid who had just been sick enough to miss school for several days, because Friday is the last day of school before they get the whole week off for Thanksgiving vacation. If that kid had coughed on Will and gotten him sick for next week I think I would have strangled somebody. So we said no and they acted disappointed. Lisa said she was going to ask the piano teacher never to assign this kid as a duet partner for Will again.

At least they will get a chance to practice together Saturday morning at the show rehearsal (the performance is Saturday night). But we have no idea if this kid is prepared at all or not. I’ve tried to put Will in a good frame of mind and I think he’s doing okay and he still seems to be looking forward to the show.

Frankly, if the other kid can’t play the piece adequately, then I still think Will should get a chance to go up there and play; there will be nine other kids playing the part missing from his particular duet (remember it’s a big group number). Probably what will happen is the kid will get to go up there whether he’s ready or not. At least Will has the bigger part to play in the duet and starts first, so hopefully he can get into a good flow.

As the cherry on top, Will just this morning remembers to tell me that the families of duet partners are supposed to sit together at the recital. Something about being able to get up and get on stage and take their places in the quickest way. Now, we have never interacted with these people before in any other capacity, but I’m really not excited about sitting next to them for an hour or more after they dropped the ball and tried to make excuses (they seem to have forgotten that they missed the first scheduled duet practice and that we always had to go to their time).

The thing you do in these situations is apologize for not holding up your end, not say lame shit like “I’m sorry this didn’t work out, we couldn’t help that our son got sick.” Sure, if by “this didn’t work out” you mean “we didn’t show up TWICE and couldn’t be bothered either time to tell people more than a couple hours in advance that we wouldn’t show up” and “oh by the way, sorry we never offered to make up for this by offering to come to your scheduled practice time or call you directly even though we had your number.”

I mean, I’m sorry it didn’t work out either, by which I mean, “Sorry I rearranged our dinner plans twice and drove to a piano rehearsal just to sit around on nights you didn’t show up and my son had homework to do and that somehow you thought calling at the last minute to set up a piano practice with your sick kid the night before the show was a fair solution.”

I’m sure they don’t see themselves as the problem and they may well be nice people, but when you (a) over-schedule yourself, (b) don’t plan ahead, (c) don’t show up when you ask other people to meet YOUR schedule, and (d) don’t keep other people informed, then the buck stops with you. You are the weakest link. Doesn’t mean it’s always going to be that way, or that you meant to do it, but you have to prove your reliability after a display like this, you don’t get to expect others to assume that you are reliable unless they have a big track record of you showing up.

Well, that was a bit cathartic. Like I said, my hope is simply that these folks don’t try to talk to us much at all. Smile and nod. Because if we get into any kind of discussion where they start offering excuses and fishing for a “we understand and don’t blame you at all” response, they aren’t getting it from me. Likewise, as long as Will gets to play and has a good time, I don’t feel the need to chastise them either. I hope their kid plays great. It’s just that I trust people up to a point, and if they lose that trust they have to earn it back somehow. And I feel our society as a whole likes to avoid holding people accountable for anything.

So my lovely wife and I could use your best wishes for a great show and as little interaction as possible with these folks. We get through Saturday and hopefully everyone gets a chance to take a deep breath!

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Let time get away from me this morning with various freelance issues and then the rain started, so I missed my daily walk, which is a bummer.

Kind of added to my general malaise about the horrible results in this year’s NCAA tournament. I can’t stand five of the eight teams that made the Elite 8, and three of those five represent upsets and a fourth was considered the weakest #2 seed in the tournament, so it’s not like my hopes that those teams would be defeated by now were a statistical reach.

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No Civil Discourse

Recently read this post in the Austin Chronicle by Michael Ventura, courtesy of a link from my friend Aaron’s blog. As always, I was foolish enough to read the comments. And as usual, they were disheartening. My response to the Comment section below.

Personally, I found that Vance’s use of big words served no useful purpose in communicating his point. In my experience, such overblown rhetorical flourishes are the mark of a autodidact who desperately wants to show off and mistakes polysyllabic assaults for intellectual rigor. Don’t bother with your sincere concerns, Vance: I promise to do some soul-searching.

It was also amusing to see RonReagan stating that liberals cannot stand opposing points of view, right after Vance took an entirely one-sided stand on the article. Note that while the original essay criticizes the Tea Party, it does not exclude the left from blame for our current situation.

I’m not sure what else Vance is ranting against, though complaining that Ventura’s article was a bit dull would have been appropriate. It’s a fact that the Tea Party is overwhelmingly white and that the demographics in this country are shifting rapidly toward whites becoming a minority. The Tea Party is explicitly outraged by changes that have taken place over the past couple decades (apparently ignoring the Republican periods of control).  To suggest that there is no connection between whites wanting to protect a status they’ve grown accustomed to and the nasty anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Tea Party ignores one of the simplest explanations for their behavior. It also ignores historical precedents for such reactions to demographic change.

It’s also laughable to suggest that only liberals choose to use victimization as a defense. The Tea Party movement is one giant cry of “We’re being victimized!” Accusing the left of having a strangehold on relativism is also amusing, given that defenders of intelligent design have co-opted this very strategy to defend their non-scientific theories as acceptable equivalents to evolution.

As far as liberals controlling the national education agenda, it was Bush who passed No Child Left Behind, a monument to centralized state planning of education if ever there was one. I work in the textbook industry and just as Ventura noted, efforts to warp the historical record toward a particular political goal emerge from both the left and the right. Pretending otherwise is willful Ignorance (gee, Vance, it IS fun to used initial capitals constantly). It is certainly not mature rationality. Nor does childish hyperbole like leftism “is the postmodern parent of all tyranny, genocide, and enslavement” advance a credible argument or further a meaningful debate. Genocide in the Sudan and Rwanda was not the result of leftism. I could go on, but there doesn’t seem to be a point.

There are serious problems with public education in the United States. They do not stem from a single, exclusive cause. Fixing them will require the sacrificing of sacred cows on the left (teacher unions and lack of accountability for poor performance) and the right (a war against teaching the scientific method).

I can’t see how shouting “Liberty!” addresses those systemic problems. Nor would eliminating the only competition in a two-party system promote greater freedom of choice, which is supposedly a cornerstone of “Freedom!” I’m left nodding my head sadly at the opening comment of the article: the two sides simply can’t talk TO each other.

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It’s tough to write educational materials for people when you disagree with their basic pedagogical approach to teaching.

Right now I’m working as a subcontractor for a contractor working for a client who is more focused on the paraphernalia surrounding the main narrative than in the quality of the narrative itself. And that window-dressing is ugly. Everything they want involves reducing options for students AND teachers while emphasizing a single way of presenting the material being taught.

Clearly the client wants to dumb things down as much as possible. However, they also need to hit state standards that have been written to push critical thinking skills. So they need smoke and mirrors.

The result is an array of labels designed to identify questions as requiring critical thinking when in fact the majority of them do no such thing. Because when I try to ask such a question, it is labeled as too hard or having too many possible answers. The questions that do require students to be creative and analytical are so out of sync with what they are being taught in the rest of the book that it’s laughable.

It’s all such a sham. The hypocrisy of the entire approach is evident to anybody outside of the corporate culture promoting it. I remember mocking this publisher’s books for their superficiality over a decade ago when I was working for a rival company. When I accepted this project, I hadn’t realized that the spate of mergers within the publishing field had put this imprint under the umbrella of a larger client. But I can see that the same editorial guidelines are in place.

I will be glad when this project is over. Textbooks are never the most exciting things to read or write, but I’m somewhat embarrassed at how bland and restrictive this one is. I would never want my own children taught from these books.

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