Sunday, March 20, 2011

Happy Spring Break

Have a happy and safe Spring Break.

Spring is a good time to visit the Mercer Arboretum & Botanic Gardens, an oasis of serenity and natural beauty along Cypress Creek. The park contains over 300 acres of East Texas Piney Woods and showcases the area’s largest collection of native and cultivated plants.

The arboretum and botanic gardens are divided by Aldine Westfield Road.

The east side contains the botanic gardens with over 20 acres of   annual and perennial flower beds, endangered species, a lily pond and other water features,  ferns, bamboo, gingers, herbs, tropicals, among others. At the back of the gardens is a walking trail that takes the visitor though the Piney Woods.

The west side of Aldine Westfield features playgrounds and a picnic area. A rustic path meanders past a hickory bog, cypress swamp, maple collection and though ancient woodlands.

Have a great time.

The image is the Primrose Path that greets visitors when they enter the park. Photo by Suzzanne Chapman is used for educational purposes only.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Good News Academics

Boston Arts Academy

Imagine an urban school where 94% of its students get into college. This happens at the Boston Arts Academy, a school located outside Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. More amazing is that the school never looks at grades or test scores to determine entrance into the school. How can it be?

Listen to Linda Nathan, the school's administrator and author of the book, The Hardest Questions aren't on the Test on the Best of Our Knowledge #1061 and learn a little more.

Lest you think that the school is all about the arts, you'll hear that there are also lessons in humanities, foreign languages, and writing. Creativity is encouraged by a flexible teaching schedule and volunteerism that brings into the schools ideas from the real world. Take care of the teachers and you will take care of the students.

You can follow Linda on her blog. You can also read online a portion of Linda Nathan's book, The Hardest Questions aren't on the Test. A quick reading will demonstrate that asking questions is the best way to finding an answer. That is good news.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Remarkable People

The news has a habit of telling just the bad stories.

Listening to these stories day after day can get you down. So to try and balance the storyline a little, here is a good news story. It just goes to show that America is full of interesting people who do good. You just have to look for them.

Widley Coulanges, Son of Haitian immigrants bound for Ivy League.

Marietta, Georgia is the home of South Cobb High School. A recent graduate Widley Coulanges scored 2250 out of a possible 2400 on the SAT. He also achieved a 4.57 grade point average at South Cobb (he did so by taking college level courses), played varsity lacrosse, and participated in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, National Honor Society, Health Occupations Students of America Club, Beta Club, and the Leadership Experience Opportunity Club. He was also a Georgia Governor's Honor Program finalist. And he has spent three summers as a volunteer at WellStar Cobb Hospital.

Widley was accepted to numerous colleges and offered scholarships to three Ivy League schools. He choose Harvard because he hopes to study medicine some day. Widley has a remarkable family - a thirteen year old sister Edwine who also shares a passion for learning, and remarkable parents Wilfrid and Edline. Edline is a respected nurse at a local hospital in Marietta and Wilfrid, when not driving a cab, is studying to get a license as a physical therapist. The parents emigrated from Haiti years ago. They have raised their children with love and understanding, instilling in them a passion to succeed and to help others.

Doesn't this story make you feel a little better?

Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal - Son of Haitian immigrants bound for Ivy League

Learn about South Cobb High School and what they are doing to achieve academic excellence.

Read about Cobb County School District. Learn how even Middle Schoolers are groomed for college.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Giver - Lois Lowry

Is ignorance bliss?

Imagine a future world that has eliminated pain and strife by converting everyone to "sameness". A world of politeness and manners where all violence, prejudice, and poverty are eliminated, but also a world where the past must remain hidden. A world where ignorance of the past is bliss.

Only one person The Giver possesses memories of the time before, so that he or she may draw upon these memories in case they are needed. When Jonas turns 12, he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver, and the knowledge that there is perhaps something more to life.

Lois Lowry, the author, describes the story as follows:

"I tried to make Jonas's world seem familiar, comfortable, and safe, and I tried to seduce the reader. I seduced myself along the way. It did feel good, that world. I got rid of all the things I fear and dislike; all the violence, poverty, prejudice and injustice, and I even threw in good manners as a way of life because I liked the idea of it. One child has pointed out, in a letter, that the people in Jonas's world didn't even have to do dishes. It was very, very tempting to leave it at that."

Now, it’s time for Jonas to receive the truth. But what is the truth? For Jonas, there is no turning back.What choice will he make? And must he make that choice for others?

What choice would you make?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" - George Santayana (born Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás)

I love history and often quote Santayana, a Spanish-American novelist and philosopher, who is said to have remarked that we either learn from history or we repeat it. Those are my words, Santayana's exact words, more harshly spoken, are quoted above.

The current debate on education suggests that America is falling behind the world in educating its young. iIn many large American cities including Detroit, Baltimore, New York, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Miami, Dallas, Denver and Houston, students have less than a 50-50 chance of graduating from high school. Employers grumble about an uneducated work force, colleges set up remedial education classes to teach students what they should have learned in high school, and the army warns that over thirty per cent of possible recruits can't pass the basic entrance examination.

The causes of this crisis in education are many. Suggestions on how to improve the situation just as plentiful. I don't want to get into either cause or solution at this point. No, what interests me is a book that I came across in an antique store. The rather dry title is the Twenty-fifth Biennial Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture, Volume 30, 1925 -1926.

Have I lost you already? Well, that proves Santayana's remark - history is so dry and boring that its lessons are lost to us. And, so we are back where we were.

Anyway, I will labor on. The Twenty-Fifth Biennial Report contains 702 pages. Amidst the reports on population, farm products and animal husbandry, is an article on Rural Life and Community Problems by Edgar Mendenhall, of Kansas State Teachers College of Pittsburg. The point of Mendenhall's  article is his claim that students of rural life are gravely confronted with a lack of quality education. The result is a brain-drain, and exodus of rural students to the cities where the quality of education is far superior. Funny, how the tide of human affairs ebbs and flows. Today's students flee the cities for the suburbs.

Kansas in 1925 and 1926 was a system of one-teacher schools in the country and the graded schools in the city. Citing a study by Dr. F.P.O'Brien of the State Teachers College of Emporia, Mendenhall notes that three quarters of all one-teacher schools had teachers who held their jobs less than one year. Another one-fifth of the teachers had been in the school house for one year. This meant that roughly one in twenty teachers had taught for two years.The obvious reasons for the extremely short duration were uncertainty of tenure, salary, conditions, and opportunity.

And, so it was no great surprise that when standardized tests were given to the country student and the city student that a sizable gap in reading ability existed.And the same gap existed when the same arithmetic tests were administered.

I have always been a skeptic of statistics. Isolated statistics often produce skewed results. For instance, if the pairs of country and city students had been measure on the yard stick of animal husbandry or agronomy, I imagine the city student would have come up a little short.

We learn what is taught to us and we learn what is relevant.This is the message of the 1970's movie To Sir with Love starring Sidney Poitier. Sidney Poitier plays a teacher in a inner-city London school. He is black and educated. The high school students are white and working class. he gets through to them by relating literature and math to their lives. For instance he teaches math by explaining the different weight classes in boxing to the testosterone-prone young males.

Getting back to 1925 and 1926, Mendenhall proposes all sorts of measures including the application of business principles to the management of the rural schools. The idea is to focus on the rural school board and provide a measuring stick of 40 points that board members should be measured by. The categories of measurement include personal traits of the school board. Are they fair-minded, honest, straightforward, etc, or reactionary and prejudiced? What is their training, how do they act as board members, are they involved in the community, do they relate to the superintendent and teachers in a positive way?

This interesting approach to education suggests that learning flows downhill from board member to board, to superintendent, to teacher and then to student. The important principle is that if we expect students to be responsible for their education, then board members should also be responsible for setting standards and establishing the means to achieve those standards.

Mr. Mendenhall concludes his article with a portion of a  poem by James Russell Lowell - A Glance Behind The Curtain.

New times demand new measures and new men;
The world advances and in time outgrows
The laws that in our fathers' day were best;
And doubtless, after us some purer scheme
Will be shaped by wiser men than we.
Made wiser by the steady growth of truth...
Mr. Mendenhall suggests that there can be no more "dillydally" about the matter. That educators must learn by yielding some of our old ideas and surrender old prejudices; that is, if we wish to protect the interests of those we hold most dear, the students of public education.

This article is buried in an old book that dates to 1925 and 1926. I doubt that it has been read in more than four score and five years since its publication by more than a handful of people.

I wonder if Santayana was not right.

Read what Houston schools are doing on Facebook or read about the Project Houston Grad, a project to increase graduation rates.

Image from . Click to see more images of one room schoolhouses in Kansas.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The meaning of Auld Lang Syne

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?

(Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796) transcribed this now traditional New Years Day verse, having heard an old Scottish gentleman recite the lines. Burns admits to adding two lines to the poem. They are the third and fourth stanzas that reference time spent upon the braes and in the burns, or, as we would say, hillsides and streams.)

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

(It is for the reader to decide who is drinking, childhood sweethearts or bosom buddies? These days it doesn't matter for friendship knows no gender.

If you didn't already know it, a 'cup o' kindness' is a drink. )

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp!
And surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

(In a Scottish pub, drinks were poured from kegs with pint tankards the standard measure of drink. The stowp was another name for a tankard, or what we might call a 'mug'. Here, each friend buys ('be', the 'e' is long and rhymes with 'ye') their own pint and toasts with a 'cup of kindness'.

This line is the most enigmatic of the poem, for traditional hospitality demands that a friend buy the others drink. My take on this is that the poet suggests that real friends do everything 'even-steven'. True friendship is not a debt of gratitude, but a bonding of souls.)

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin’ auld lang syne.

(A gowan is a wild flower. 'Pu’d the gowans fine' romantically suggests 'plucking' or more appropriately 'courting' the fine young ladies upon the Scottish hillsides. Of course, it may also mean that the two were picking flowers.)

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin’ auld lang syne.

('Paidl’d in the burn' translates as paddling in the stream, something, as a youth, was playfully done from early morning til the setting of the sun. Time and the broad seas have risen and roared, separating childhood friends. Interestingly, Robert Burns himself once thought crossing the 'braid' sea and emigrating to America.)

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
And gies a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willie-waught,
for auld lang syne.

(The word 'fiere' comes by way of the French, suggesting a brave and proud compatriot. So, give me a hand my trusty friend and together we'll take a good drought of ale for the sake of olden times.)

Robert Burns is considered the national poet of Scotland. You can read his complete works by going to Robert Burns Country.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The land of the free and the home of the brave.

It is cute when we all work together.

The Star Spangled Banner as sung by our past Presidents.