Thursday, December 17th 2009

The reporter’s voice: Who, me?
posted @ 5:47 pm in [ ]

You are happily doing some work for an online news organization — a really good one. You like it very much, you like the philosophy, and you like the people. You think it’s really taking off, too, and there’s an exciting energy about being part of something so important and cool. You realize, though, that it’s a challenge to use the third person exclusively, and usually, passive voice annoys you (yeah, you do, don’tcha?), but hey, sometimes it’s necessary, or it’s all you can do with the text and still have it make sense. It’s also like riding a bike: you can get back into it when you’ve worked in journalism enough, except anywhere with your laptop is quieter than the newsroom where you learned to write on deadline and copy edit.

You get those events listings that say, “we” all the time in the original listing, and, recognizing that that will not stand, you must then ask yourself, “Well, who the hell is this ‘we’? Is it the ‘they’ you are always hearing about, except this month, they’re having an event where they weed local parks instead of trying to wreck your life specifically?” and then you figure out who “we” is, and edit accordingly. Or sometimes you get postings that don’t have anywhere near enough information to be remotely useful to anyone, and then you do some research, scrape together enough that people will know whom to contact and where and when to show up, and what-all is going on (you leave the “why” — and usually the “how” — to them).

Either way, you polish it up and post that badboy. This, of course, makes you feel clever and pleased with yourself. You solved something. You made a little journalistic marble out of a scratched and dented ball-bearing pile of words. Now you can go on beautifying electronic copy, with a smile on your face.

Thanks, I feel better now. I just had to get that out of my system. Or, you know, you did.

Wednesday, December 16th 2009

Every Child Left Behind
posted @ 4:06 pm in [ ]

I just want to take a moment to rant about the general suckitude of No Child Left Behind. It sucks in much the same way that just about everything the Bush administration jacked with sucks. That is, it is an utterly ineffectual policy that made a bad situation far worse than anyone could have imagined, it favors rich white people, screws regular Americans for years, if not generations, to come, and is largely based on fear, and rich people getting richer while poor people get poorer (which, as you know, is the step just before the rest of us were all to just lie down and die and let Dubya and his pals have everything). I know, that’s very specific and somewhat long-winded. Now you know why I opted for the more concise and almost plaintive term, “sucks.”

Was public education in the U.S. bad before NCLB? In many places, sure, it wasn’t great. I for one succeeded in spite of my public education and not because of it. But it wasn’t great, not because our teachers suck, or because the schools themselves aren’t trying, or because our kids are too stupid; it wasn’t great because it wasn’t enough of a priority on our resource allocation list. Schools didn’t have the budgets to get what they needed and were overwhelmed with bureaucracy. Teachers had classes that were too big, and not enough hours in the day to teach how they wanted. The students that were doing poorly got a fair amount of attention (whose effectiveness wasn’t uniform), but the ones who were excelling didn’t get much reinforcement, and in some places, most of the kids in the middle didn’t, either.

So what was the solution? Standardized testing. The schools whose test scores were high would get more money, and those whose test scores were low wouldn’t. Standardized testing, though, mostly tests the size of the houses in the neighborhood where the test is being administered. So the rich schools did well and got richer, and the poor schools didn’t do as well, and got poorer. Teachers had to spend a bunch of time teaching to the test and not covering key material kids would need to get along in their educations and lives. Students got ripped off.

But that’s not the worst of it.

My father, who teaches high school geometry at a charter school in New England, has been observing that skills are declining over time. Every year, it seems he has to go back a little further in students’ basic mathematical education and get them up to speed before he can teach them what they’re supposed to be learning that year. First it was more basic algebra, then it started moving back further, to the point where, several years on, he was having to catch high school students up on fractions, and now, long division. Essentially, he observed earlier this year, it seems that students didn’t learn much math after about 2001, wherever they were in the process at that point — their mathematical educations just seem to have stalled there.

And what happened in 2001? Indeed, NCLB happened. It brought the educational process of an entire generation to a screeching halt. Now that those folks who were in grade school and junior high then are in college, I’m seeing it, too: adults who don’t know what a part of speech is, or what the difference is between first and second person. I’m filling in the holes wherever I find them, and the students are very eager indeed to have them filled — they really are thirsty for knowledge, which is great — but it really bothers me how completely the educational system in this country has failed an entire generation.

I hope there is a special place in hell for leaders who rip off their nations’ kids.