Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Testing, Testing, 1-2-3: The Machines That Will Pass Judgment

Wow! My three readers chimed in! They want dispatches from the danger zone! Thank goodness for that, because I'm in it, the place is unjust, and it's part of my religion to oppose injustice.

Human beings have been judged by machines for a long time. Think of all the runners who have had their times clocked by a long string of increasingly complicated stopwatches.

Machines have been testing students for a long time as well. Who among us has never held a Number Two pencil and pondered multiple choice questions on the SAT?

Still, America is unprepared for the new wave of test-scoring technology. Forget being judged by the content of your character. That was so 20th century. In our Brave New World, students will write essays, even speak out loud into computers, and software will grade their efforts.

We will become a nation whose achievers are chosen by machine.

The Obama Administration's push for national standardized testing is pretty fuzzy on how millions and millions of "assessments" will be scored accurately within the space of a few months. Please feel free to do the math yourself. If every tenth grader in America has to take a test with two full-length essays on it, and there's been no call from any direction for people to be paid to score these puppies, what else will score them but Artificial Intelligence?

I'm not relying on speculation, readers. I attended a workshop last month at Kean University. The speaker, Carol Jago, admitted that within a decade, all national testing will be scored using Artificial Intelligence, i.e., computer software.

It won't matter what you say, so long as you use big words and correct grammar. Ideas will be decidedly secondary. And confounding all notions of propriety, one of the standardized tests will be narrative writing -- fiction.

Traditionally, the students at my Vo-Tech have done pretty well on state standardized tests, because these tests have been scored by human beings. Human readers can see through the grammar, the Spanglish, the ebonics, to the flair these students exhibit as writers and to their ideas.

Artificial Intelligence will be programmed to reject Spanglish and ebonics. It will be programmed to look for sophisticated vocabulary and grammatically correct sentence structure and punctuation. All of these are important, but what about ideas? Can a machine be a good judge of creativity?

Better yet: Do we want the future of our American student body to rest on the judgment of Artificial Intelligence?

Oh. Brave. New. World.


Monday, November 17, 2014

I'm Not Paranoid

They really are out to get public employees. By "they" I mean certain politicians and high-end businesspeople. The politicians would like to be free from pension and salary obligations. The businesspeople want to sell their wares -- and they want to re-create that perfect teacher they had, or they've seen. When you're a billionaire, you can pull lots of strings.

What will happen when education is privatized? Well, I like lists. Let's make one:


1. School teachers will no longer be given any protection from sudden dismissal. Parents, capricious supervisors, students, and politicians will decide who stays in the classroom, and who goes.

2. Teachers' salaries will be decided by the businesses running the schools. These businesses will be able to set any price for service that they please. This will save the taxpayers money. And if teachers balk at earning less, they can quit ... There will always be someone willing to take their place.

3. Student achievement will be tied to standardized tests. Teachers will spend most of their classroom time prepping kids for the tests. If the students don't do well on the tests, the teachers will be fired.

4. Schools will become platforms for the businesses that run them. If the owner of Microsoft (easy example) wants to, he will demand that every school have new Microsoft products every year. These can be bought with funds saved from teacher and support staff salaries.

5. Extraneous employees such as janitors and secretaries will be dismissed. Students and teachers, mostly teachers, will be responsible for keeping the school clean. Support staff will do their own secretarial work. This savings in salaries can also be used to buy more products from the business that owns the school.

6. The person holding a student accountable for behavior will be the parent. If the parent has no respect for education (having listened to governors describing teachers as lazy and lousy), the teacher will have no standing in any dispute with a student.

7. People who have spent decades in a profession will have no retirement funds upon which to draw. Teachers, whose salaries are already low, depend upon pensions to pay for their declining years. If these pension plans are un-funded, many existing teachers will not have any retirement income except social security. People who only work ten months a year aren't in any position to contribute hefty sums to a 401K.

8. When education is privatized, no one in his or her right mind will choose to be a teacher. Those not in their right minds will rush in for those jobs.

I am at a new crossroads, reader. I've got a front seat for the Assault on Public Education. Like it or not (and I don't like it), this is the battle I'm fighting.

I've fought other battles on the platform of this blog. Teaching has nothing to do with religion, thank goodness, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to set up my soap box here and talk about the education crisis.

If you're not interested in this topic, maybe you know some teachers who are. I ask you to invite them.

Please, all three of you loyal readers ... come along with me on this ride! I've always depended upon your support. Now I need it more than ever.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

We'll Miss Those Ink-Stained Wretches

Modern colleges thrive on a pack of lies. The biggest one, of course, is the one The Heir got fed: "Workplaces are looking for people with liberal arts degrees, because these people are used to higher level thinking." What a crock.

 Spare is at an art school, where a more pragmatic approach prevails, but the snobbery is still there. In this case, it's the idea that film and t.v. producers are foaming at the mouth for people who have learned the proper way to write scripts and pitch them.

Last Thursday, David Simon came to speak at The Spare's art school. He is an HBO producer best known for "The Wire."

I grabbed a season of "The Wire" from the library last year because I heard that the show dealt with inner-city schools. And I loved it. The show not only dealt with inner-city schools, it got the whole thing right, including the ridiculous standardized testing and the fact that teachers are powerless over the lives their students live outside the school walls.

I liked "The Wire" so much that Mr. J bought me the boxed set for Xmas. Watched it. Loved it. Terrific show about crime in Baltimore, all the way up to the biggest criminals, which are the politicians and real estate developers.

(And yes, whippersnappers, that is Idris Elba in the drawing.)

I was beyond thrilled to be able to hear Mr. Simon speak at Spare's school. He was invited by the school's fledgling creative writing program.

I don't think this particular arsty ivory tower was ready for Mr. Simon's message.

In a nutshell, Mr. Simon said he's no artist, television dramas are collaborative, and he was lucky to have been a curious print journalist on a big-city paper, in this case the Baltimore Sun. When gently prodded by a professor as to what kind of production team he looked for when beginning a television series (no doubt to bolster the ambitions of the attending student screenwriters), Simon said he wants nonfiction prose writers and people who have lived the experiences that he is depicting in his show. He said there's hardly ever anyone under 40 on his teams.

David Simon also offered what, to me, could be the perfect gem about television drama. He said that he knew he wasn't interesting himself as a suburban white male, so he went into journalism to write about people who were living more interesting lives. Of course this led him to the homicide department of the Baltimore City Police, where the workers pray for a string of dull days.

This was a blow not only to the professors teaching exactly what Mr. Simon says he hates ("people who write to the commercial"), but also to the young writers in the audience who have no access to jobs in print journalism. That medium is sinking like the Titanic on Iceberg Day.

Where will the gritty, honest, realistic dramas of the future come from? How will people support themselves if they try to follow a good story source? I don't know the answers to these questions. I only know that the avenue David Simon pursued is disappearing into the mists of time. How sad and starved we will be when the ink-stained wretches are all gone!


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Start Your Day with a Laugh

Isn't that what we're about here at "The Gods Are Bored?" Check out our Spare and her pumpkin spice ... condoms?

Pumpkin Spice Commercial (Parody)

Sunday, November 09, 2014


Life is very random, and so friendships are formed rather randomly. You become friends with the people you work with, you become friends with the people you worship with, and of course there are the neighbors. Sometimes, however, all of these methods of acquiring friends fall short. You don't choose who you work with or who lives near you. The one thing you do have some control over is where you worship, and with whom. But that falls short too, often enough. I had a dozen "friends" at the United Methodist Church. Not one of them looked at the world the way I do. I left their circle ten years ago and don't miss them a bit.

When I became a Pagan, I underwent a spiritual transformation. This had nothing to do with finding friendship at all. It was an inner shift, a philosophical and experiential shift, and it happened in a solitary setting. In other words, I did not become a Pagan because I felt like it would be a path to finding friends.

Being a Pagan has been a terrific way to find friends. Maybe it's like love -- it comes where and when you least expect it.

Even my most glancing interactions with other Pagans (not including Facebook) are informed by a colossal likeness of mind. This is not entirely because of shared Pagan deities or rituals. It goes beyond that to a broader interaction with the world. Almost all of the Pagans I have met since my spiritual transformation in 2005 have been well-read, nature-loving (duh!), humorous and imaginative people, often with humorous and imaginative children. And because Pagans aren't burdened with the need to upkeep lavish churches, the interest Pagans show to one another is less about wooing and more about genuine shared interests.

This weekend I got together with two friends I met through the Pagan community. I didn't know either one of them in 2005. Now I consider them "best"friends. This is because independently we do the same things. In other words, I started doing stuff that they were doing, we met, and now we do stuff together. We're not in lock-step, but we have common ground beyond just our praise and worship paths.

If there's any free advice to be had from this sermon, it is this: When your path of worship opens up to you, it's likely that the people you meet will be kindred spirits. This might not be true if you are following a faith handed down from your parents or just strongly supported by your community.

I know very well that some Pagans have been burned by friendships formed through their faith. I'm not one of those people. I feel blessed to have met the people I've met. And I feel truly blessed to have found some really wonderful people with whom I have formed close bonds.

So, to my 21st century friends: If I hadn't left the United Methodist Church, I never would have met you. If the Gods hadn't spoken to me in my solitude, I never would have met you. Praised be the bored gods! I didn't ask, but I received all the same.


Thursday, November 06, 2014

At Play in the Realm of King Triton

It's been some years now since I determined to adjust to the flatlands and learn to love the sea. As a kid from Appalachia, I never liked the ocean. When you've dipped into a first-rate freshwater swimming hole, the ocean can only be regarded with loathing and hostility.

I've never revised my low opinion of swimming in the Atlantic, but I have found an interest on the shoreline. I collect sea glass. Me, and every other 50-year-old white woman within driving distance of sandy beaches and wave action.

Today New Jersey's public school teachers convened in Atlantic City for our annual self-pity festival. I decided to go, since my bargaining unit didn't tell me not to. Of course, the big draw of the teachers' convention, for me, is that it's a half mile from the sea glass beaches. With an early start, I could spend a couple of productive hours beach combing and still make it to the convention for a workshop.

The weather was miserable, 55 degrees and pouring. To me this seemed like an excellent opportunity to have the sea glass beach to myself. But OH NO. Every single time I go to look for sea glass, there's always some other midlife white woman ahead of me. That beach is picked clean 99 times out of 100.

So there she was, in her rain poncho, with her bag of frosted gems in her hand. In vain did I search for anything worthy of picking up off the sand.

Finally, in frustration, I went to a different beach. And there, King Triton and Queen Oshun (being bored deities that I praise and worship) tossed to me two lovely finds. One is the bottom of a 7-up bottle, a nice old one. The other is a jewelry-grade piece of cobalt blue. So all was not lost!

Then I went to the teacher convention, and it was colossally depressing. Can you keep a secret? There's nothing ... not one thing ... about the teaching profession that appeals to me. At this convention you couldn't even get free candy without forking over your email address. What kind of swag fest is that?

This was my day. All glory, laud, and honor to Triton and Oshun, mighty deities of the briny deep!

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Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Dinosaurs Behaving Badly

It's Dinovember, a month when plastic toy dinosaurs come to life in order to amuse children and lure them away from the computer screen. Hooray for the humble plastic dino!

Well, in theory, anyway.

The plastic dinosaurs in my household have issues. Just look at this bunch:

Mind you, this was 4:00 in the afternoon!

About the only thing positive I can say about coming home to the sight of plastic dinosaurs sucking down wine is that it appears they elected a designated driver.