Crossroads of Humanity

Feb 19, 2013

The State of Public Education in the U.S.

Recently, my principal felt compelled to share an article with his staff. It originally appeared in the January-February 2013 edition of the AAUP, American Association of University Professors and was written as a letter from a retired high school teacher to college professors everywhere: Warnings from the Trenches by Kenneth Bernstein.

You should take a moment to read Mr. Bernstein's letter because although I agree with every point he makes, I'm not going to summarize it here. Instead, I'd like to share what can be done to strengthen education in the U.S. I have spent the past 14 years teaching in both public and private schools at the upper elementary and middle school levels, so I think I'm qualified to share an observation, or two, or more.

Given a choice, many wealthy parents choose private schools for their children because they believe their children will get a better education. I'll come right out and say it. I think they're right. Furthermore, I want government officials to take a long hard look at what is being done in the private sector. If they really want to begin to repair our faulty educational system, there are a few things they must be willing to do. 

First, spend time in a variety of classrooms. Get out there and see what's working and what isn't. Next, talk to the people on the front lines: the teachers, aides and principals who work with students on a daily basis. Ask the right questions, get them talking, and most importantly, take their advice. Finally, do away with so many standardized tests, and most certainly do not "grade" teachers based on their students' results. Instead, use standardized tests as just one of many measures to check how students are doing in the classrooms. Let schools and parents use results from those tests to guide their instruction. There should be no other purpose for standardized tests. Period. 

What do private schools offer that public schools do not? They have lower student-teacher ratios, smaller class sizes, less standardized tests and offer an abundance of "specials" classes including: physical education, music, art and foreign language to name a few. Not only are these classes offered, but they are offered more frequently than I ever saw in the public schools. The private school where I now teach offers daily Spanish classes to students in preschool through middle school. The elementary and middle school students have both recess and physical education daily. They have music three times per week and receive art instruction twice per week. A multitude of after school and summer school enrichment opportunities are offered. Some examples are pottery, Lego robotics and individualized musical instrument instruction.

How do I know that smaller class sizes and instruction in a variety of subjects help students to succeed? I know because I'm in the classroom every day, watching my students grow and learn. I know because overall, they excel on the few standardized tests we give. And don't even begin to suggest that it's because we are selective regarding the students our school accepts. In both my public and private school teaching experience, the kids aren't all that different. There is a range of talents and abilities in every classroom. We modify our teaching as needed to challenge those who might be considered gifted and talented in traditional settings and provide extra time and support to those who have special needs ranging from ADHD to ASD to dyslexia.

Do we want the next generation of U.S. citizens to be prepared to enter a diversified and technologically advanced workforce? Of course, we do. So here are a few simple changes that will help to make that possible:
  1. Get rid of No Child Left Behind.
  2. Choose one standardized test that aligns with the new National Standards, and test students only once per year.
  3. Get the results back to schools in a timely manner so that the results are helpful for everyone involved.
  4. Do not promote or dismiss teachers nor fund or close schools based on those results.
  5. Require that all students in all grades in Everyschool, USA, have recess daily, physical education at least four times per week, and music and art instruction at least twice per week.
  6. Make sure that science and history classes are given the same importance as reading/writing and math instruction.
  7. Provide extra funding for technology to schools that do not have computers in every classroom and a computer lab in every school.
Our children and future generations are worth it, and they deserve our support.

S.L. Wallace is the author of the Reliance on Citizens trilogy and Retrospection.

Feb 16, 2013

Dream Big!

Welcome to the Dream Project Blog Hop!

Writing is largely solitary, and sometimes a lonely endeavor. Sure, writers talk to friends, experts for research, discuss what works and what doesn't with their editor, and bounce ideas off of fellow writers. But in the end it's one person pounding the keyboard or twirling the pencil. But what if it didn't have to be completely alone?

1. You have the opportunity to hire anybody as your cover artist. Who would you hire?

I've enjoyed having both Carl Graves from Extended Imagery and Yezall Stronghold from Covers by Yezall do my cover art. I think I'll continue to stick with them.

2. Who would you co-write your next novel with? What genre? Why?

I prefer to work with people I know and trust, so I would love to work with my husband, author Jay Merin, on my current project, but he prefers to write solo. My current work-in-progress is a dark urban fantasy, and I've actually asked my friend, Troy McCombs if he would like to work with me, because I like his style and I believe it would fit my next novel. Unfortunately, he's in the middle of another project right now. This would have been my first joint venture in writing, but I guess that will have to wait.

3. Your publisher wants to do an audiobook version of your novel and they're not sparing any expense. Who do you think can narrate your masterpiece?

Hm... I'd like Gina Torres to narrate my Reliance on Citizens trilogy.

4. They're really going all out! Your novel is getting a full soundtrack. Who should compose it? If your novel uses a lot of songs, list your compilation here.

Greg Edmonson for sure. He adapted music to fit the story line and characters in the TV show, Firefly. I'm sure he would do the same for my books and characters.

One of my main characters has a passion for music that was popular in the 1930's. I bet Mr. Edmonson would have a great time updating some traditional songs such as "Little Brown Jug," "Big Rock Candy Mountain" and "Sunny Side of the Street."

5. Congratulations! Your novel is being turned into a major motion picture. As the creator of the original work, you get to pick the director.

Yay, I choose Joss Whedon!

6. The director has some ideas on who to cast, but you get to cast one character. What role/character is it and who portrays them?

I think Jared Padalecki would make a wonderful Scott Maddock. In Price of a Bounty, Scott is a military man with a big secret. At the end of the book, he flees his home realm, with good reason, so we don't see much of him in Canvas Skies. However, with peace restored, he returns in Heart of Humanity bringing his family along with him.

7. You've been hired to write a novel based on a preexisting character or franchise from another medium. Which character or franchise is it?

I'd love to write a Firefly novel. I would be honored to write a story about any one of the characters or about the entire group. One thing I absolutely love about Firefly is the unique voice of each of the characters.

8. It's the anniversary of your favorite literary character's debut. You've been hired (yay, work!) to write an anniversary novel. Who is the literary character?

I have a collection of Cinderella stories from around the world. I think I'd like to try my hand at an ethnic Cinderella story. I usually write with an adult audience in mind, but at some point, I think I'd like to write a story for my daughter to enjoy.

Scheduled Stops:

February 1 - Thank you to Cody L. Martin for starting this Blog Hop.
February 3 - Please stop by and visit JenColafranceschi.
Febryary 5 - Donna R. Wood at Butterfly Phoenix has a terrific blog.
February 6 -  Check out Wendy Siefken's blog!
February 7 - Kai Wilson's blog is live!
February 10 - Stop in and say, "Hi!" to Author Merita King.
February 11 - Dan Peyton has the spotlight!
February 13 - Please visit Lisa Cody's blog.
February 14 - S.L. Wallace, oh that's me!
February 15 - Next up is Allison Cosgrove. Tag, you're it!
February 16 - Here's Brian Bigelow!
February 17 - Please stop in and say hi to Ed Griffin!
February 18 - DeEtte Beckstead Anderton would love a visit.
February 19 - Won't you stop by and see Laurie Boris?
February 21 - Way to go, Colleen Rose!
February 23 - Martin Crosbie welcomes you.
February 25 - Today is the day to visit Kevin Brown and Heidi Nicole Bird!
February 28 - Meet Sheila Lytle.

Thank you for visiting!

Feb 5, 2013

On Poetry and being a Poet

Please welcome W.M. Driscoll to the Crossroads.

Aristotle called poetry "imitation", not in the negative sense, but in the sense that all art is an imitation of life. Centuries later, and halfway around the world, beat poet Allen Ginsberg would claim that poetry was "the one place where people can speak their original human mind." These always struck me as two wildly divergent ideas bracketing centuries of rich and varied poetic traditions. When I, occasionally, find myself thinking on what it means to be a poet in our young tech-savvy century, and on the state of the art itself, I often look back on this sweeping arc of styles and purposes with astonishment.

There is little record of the first poets who seem to have been the intergenerational transmitters of knowledge and wisdom for their non-literate societies the shamans and wise people, if you will, and their poetry a mnemonic language designed to aid in this transmission. Since then, with the advent of the written and then printed word, poets around the world and their poetry have been transformed anew many times, the poets taking on the guises of oracles and historians, prophets, entertainers and philosophers; their poetry shifting to become here the mystic's song, there the pious' devotions, the troubadour’s lilting love plea or the bard’s narrative scaffolding.

Born into an era every bit as transformative technologically, socially and artistically as any in the recorded past, I regret to say our current poetry and poetic forms seem to me to be failing to meet the challenge of their times, seeming for the most part oddly lackluster and devoid of purpose, beleaguered by alternative expression (popular music especially) and starved by neglect. Having retreated into the cloistered sanctuary of the academies (never a good sign for an art) and having erected a “thou shalt” dragon, a rigid set of rules and guidelines that not even Nietzsche could slay, the stultifying blandness of much of the poetry being currently produced is staggering, its sole purpose appearing to be that of a political or cultural tool, an elite plaything for the parochial few.

Bleak as my view of the current poetic landscape may seem, I take heart in knowing that it will not continue this way for long. As the late Nineteenth Century French Realists (who controlled the academies and the salons in their day and used these vehicles of authority to proscribe a ‘correct’ form for their art) gave way to the impressionists and post-impressionists, so too something new and vital will inevitably grow from the authoritarian decay and public neglect of our once vibrant and striking modern and post-modern poetic forms. In fact, I can see green shoots pushing their way up through the cracked earth all around; they are ripe for the plucking--from the poetry slams and open mike nights in every major city to the individual poet boards that formed first on Usenet (the creaky old uncle of today’s social media), then spread from website to website, group to group.

What does it mean to be a poet in today’s technological, post-industrial, post-modern world? For me, personally, it has meant being a voice in the wilderness crying the coming of a modern Manet and the inevitable return of the Salon de Refus├ęs. But for others, especially the young poets I watch daily using the technology and new paradigms that have so baffled many of us, their older contemporaries, I look forward to seeing the direction they will take poetry and all the arts in the years to come--to an inevitable flowering, a crossing over into a promised land of wonderful living art, no doubt, an art that my behemoth generation as we pass clumsily from the earth might not live to see.

If you enjoyed this post, please connect with W.M. Driscoll at Facebook or Goodreads. His books are available at Amazon.