Americans Don't Seem to Care

One of my chief gripes for quite some time now has been the sad fact that a relatively small number of eligible voters actually vote in elections in this country. According to The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance only about 49.3% of eligible voters actually voted in the 2000 Presidential election. I find this statistic, and ones like it, tremendously upsetting. It says to me that most Americans are content to let someone else choose the leader of our country. It says to me that most Americans only care about who's in charge when it affects them negatively, or when times get tough. It concerns me that the majority of Americans happily enjoy all of the freedoms and opportunities this great nation offers, but can't be botherd to particiapte in our government of the people. It seems to me most people are content to sit back and let someone else defend their rights, argue the opposing point of view, and monitor the state of things, all the while enjoying the blanket of protection provided by that vigilance. It is almost tantamount to saying, "Take all the rights and freedoms you want, spend all the money you want, and conduct what ever foreign policy you want, as long as it doesn't bother me." What's more, many people don't even take the time to consider what exactly bothers them until it does and then, of course, it is often too late.

I blame much of this on our educational system and our culture of accumulation and material gratification, but that is another rant. What I would really love to see is a massive voter turnout in this next presidential election. I want the victor to know that he won after the voice of all the voters was heard. Unfortunately I know that most likely won't happen. After all that would require the other 51% of eligible voters to get off their couches, put down the Budweiser, and go to the polls. That would require a huge number of Americans to actually do something they clearly hate doing: think. Who can be troubled to think, or weigh issues or consequences? That is obviously asking too much. The last thing we want to do is bother anyone.

Fascism Update

In the course of my readings and research on the beginnings of an American fascist state - well okay, perhaps I'm being a bit unfair - I'll try again. In the course of my readings and research on the decline of American democracy ala the Bush administration, I found this nifty little item citing the 14 charactaristics of fascism. Not only is it interesting to compare to our current political environment here in the states, but it ties in nicely with my article entitled A Few Notes on Fascism, which is a little something I threw together a while ago.

Now I'm not accusing our president of being a fascist. Frankly, I don't think he's smart enough to consciously understand the ramifications of the actions of his administration. I do think, however that the general decline in the effectivness of American democracy is a dangerous trend of which complacent Americans need to be aware. Food for thought.

Standards Based Education

Today I had a meeting with my fellow middle school teachers to discuss our transition to a standards based report card. We will be part of the last group of teachers in our district to switch to a standards based system of assessment and teaching.

Many schools in our district have met with fierce opposition to our new standards based report cards, chiefly from parents. Why? Well, for one thing our report cards will no longer have A's or B's but rather simply a check, if the child is meeting the standard, an "N" if they are not, and a rare "+" if they exceed the standards. Parental opposition to this new system is understandable. Parents want to know what the hell they are looking at when they review their child's report card. Everyone is familiar with the old A,B,C,D,F system, and a standards based system is foreign to them.

What is a standards based system? Well, despite the fears of our parents that we are dumbing down our grading or moving away from a traditional system of performance assessment, standards based education is spreading nationwide, largely as a result of the No Child Left Behind Act. Standards Based Education is a response to the large number of students nationwide who seem to be getting high school diplomas and yet can't actually demonstrate that they have learned anything. Traditional grades have the potential to be very subjective from one school or one teacher to the next. Standards based education is an effort to normalize what a student should know and be able to do at a specific grade level, by state.

Our school district was among the first in Ohio to switch to a standards based report card, and the uproar has been significant. What most parents don't realize is that in the next ten years, most schools nation wide with K-8 classes, and even many high schools, will switch to this system. In fact, it has been a much bigger challenge selling this concept to parents than it has been to teachers or students. Of course, a teacher who is doing their job right really won't be affected all that much, since they are hopefully already checking to make sure their students can meet grade level benchmarks. The real bitch of it for teachers is changing the way we assess, or grade, students, and that is really more of a practical challenge than an intellectual one. For the most part, teachers who are keeping up with appropriate professional development are ready for the change and can handle it. The real problem comes from the old fossils that have been teaching for 25 generations and can't handle change.

One very valid critism has been how to motivate talented and higher ability students. In essence an 8th grader could figure out just how much he has to do to earn that check mark on his report card, indicating that he is consistently meeting the standard (like understanding and explaining cause and effect relationships, for example), and not do much else. What is left to motivate him to exceed the standard? To earn a "+", a student must consistently exceed the standard, or go above and beyond what he would normally need to do. This proves rather difficult for most students, so why bother when there is no obvious benefit? Traditional grading systems invite students to work hard and push themselves to earn an A. Get that 4.0, or higher if they take AP classes. Where it would be a challenge to consistently earn A's, it would be relatively easy for a high ability student to get a "check." Where a standards based system proves really useful for primary grade students, as the student develops intellectually, a more traditional system may be called for, if for no other reason than to help motivate them.

Of course, a great deal of the public outcry our district has experienced is no doubt a result of the change itself. Changing the system of grades that we knew, our parents knew, and so on, is big deal. People often fear change, even if the system being changed has flaws. As the change to a standards beased system ages a bit, many of the students and parents who have young children now will grow accustomed to it, and perhaps understand it better. Students now in kindergarten or first grade will never know a grade card without a check or an "N", and so as they move up the grade levels, perhaps the fear and discomfort this change has caused will subside.

As for me, I am reserving judgement until I have had more experience assessing my students according to a standards based system using a standards based report card. While making sure my students are meeting the standards and benchmarks is nothing new to me, the philosphical shift in the way I assess that learning will take some adjustment. We shall see. At the end of the day, if students graduating from high school can show they have had a meaningful education, I am willing to try almost any reasonable idea.

Well, The Brew is Good

I tried my homebrew again this weekend. It has, in fact, carbonated and it is good. It is just like a real cask conditioned English Bitter. The alcohol is more like a regular bitter, and the flavor if closer to a Special Bitter or even an ESB. Very enjoyable. Now that I am encouraged by my results I will brew another batch of something yummy. Hopefully my days of buying expensive good beer are over.

SpyWare Sucks

I am a pretty conscientious browser of the world wide web. I am generally very careful about allowing unknown scripts or ActiveX controls to run. I have a firewall that is set to be pretty secure. I am careful. And yet today, on a whim, I ran a nice little freeware prgram called XCleaner. It detected a hidden application called I Am Big Brother, which is apparently marketed to parents as an invisible tracker of computer usage. It tracks keystrokes, all websites visited, all applications launched, monitors email, and any chat programs a user might use. I have no idea how this got on my system, and it both scares the heck out of me and it really pisses me off. I am going to have to read a little more about this application, but it really concerns me that someone could be monitoring all of that activity. Even if they haven't been able to see anything since I installed my firewall about a year and a half ago, it bothers me that this thing was buried in my system for who knows how long. Bastards.

The Bottles Were Opened

Just in case anyone cares, I opened my first batch of homebrew last Sunday and it was...okay. It still needs to carbonate a fair amount. And it had this...flavor, or aftertaste. It's not bad, but just there. I told my buddies Josh and Brett about it, both of whom are more experienced homebrewers themselves and they suggested I wait. This, of course, is the thing to do. It is also the most difficult.

I am finding that in the world of making your own beer the thing to do first, whenever you are in doubt, is wait. Time in the world of homebrewing, like life, heals many wounds, if not all. Of course the problem is, I want to drink the beer! And this is not to mention the worry that comes from having it still carbonating after two weeks in the bottle. Did I mess up? Maybe I left sanitizer in my bottles. Maybe there wasn't enough yeast to begin with. These are all concerns that haunt me. And of course, the first and most reasonable solution is to wait.

If you think about it, homebrewing is so Zen. Homebrewing is as much about feeling, patience, and discipline as it is about barley, hops, and yeast. You need to feel the beer. It is, afterall, a living thing. The beer feels you, I sometimes think. It knows when you worry, or are afraid. I think your beer just wants you to relax. Like Charlie Papazian, the father of modern homebrewing says, "Relax. Have a homebrew." Man, ain't that the truth.

Currently Reading: The DaVinci Code

I am currently reading The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown. I haven't read a good action-based thriller in awhile, and I had forgotten how much fun they are to read. I used to be a big fan of Tom Clancy's books, and Jack Ryan was a favorite hero of mine. I am still a big fan of Elmore Leonard and his crime fiction. Dan Brown is right up there with these heavy weights.

The one thing so far that I really enjoy is the research this author has done. I mean I am learning a lot just by reading this book, like about the Divine Proportion (which I had forgotten about). I really like the intelligence of this book, and the fact that the reader needs to keep up, which is not a problem because you hardly want to put the book down. The book is fast paced, but takes the time to explain all the details the reader needs to stay in the loop. I can see why this book has acheived so much popularity, and I have been reminded of the pure joy of reading.

Reserved Powers and the Fuhrer

Folks, let me make something very clear to anyone who cares to read this. Let me take you back to 8th grade government. The power to make and control marriage laws is a power reserved for the states. Reserved means that only the states can make marriage laws. Not the federal government. That's why Bush and the boys need to get a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. They aren't allowed to make marriage laws, or interfere with them in anyway. And yet they are going to try. Doesn't this bother people?

I don't care if you think gay marriage is a good thing or not. It should bother you, really fucking concern you, that the federal government is trying to take this power from the states. What other powers are next? The whole point of federalism and the Constitution is to divide the powers between the federal government and the states and the people. The federal government is delegated - notice the usage - powers. It is given powers by the Constitution. All other powers belong to the states and the people. It should scare the crap out of people that the Bush administration is so paranoid, so hateful, that they want to take power from the states to mandate marriage laws. I am really surprised people aren't more up in arms about this. Is America's fear of homosexuality so intense that we are willing go surrender power to the federal government just to say gay people can't get married? Or is it that no one is paying attention? The founding fathers are rolling over in their graves, I am sure.

You know, Hitler got his start like this. Nice, quiet moves in the Reichstag. Playing on the fears of the majority, until he had seized all power and made himself supreme ruler. Then he killed six million men, women, and children. Teddy Rossevelt said that education was key to America's democracy, as was participation. It seems to me no one here is remembering their history, or caring enough to get involved. Well, it's time to get involved, because before you know it, we won't be allowed to. Our democracy depends upon the involvment of its citizens. When was the last time you wrote a letter to your Congressman or Senator, or the Preseident? When was the last time you voted? Americans need to start excerising their rights and standing up for them before they are gone. Government will continue to grow in power until it is checked, in this case by the people, which if you haven't noticed is you and I. It's time to step up, before it's too late.

A New Look for the Elfin Blog

I think I may be getting the hang of this whole CSS thing. The new look for the new blog here is stolen from Alex King's WordPress Styles Competition. The one currently up (today anyway) is the Gutenburg style created for the competition. I have modified it to show my logo instead of the original .gif, and I have changed the anchors to be underlined in the posts. I will make further changes as I get more comfortable with editing the CSS files. Eventually, since CSS is now the standard, or will be, I will update all of to use CSS.

I'm not sure why I was so reluctant to use them, as they really can make things easier and nicer. There's just a bit of a learning curve, like all things I suppose.

Well, we're off...

I've now got all content from the ol' Pseudo Blog imported into the new WordPress blog. Well, pasted and fixed to look pretty is more like it. But it's done.

Now all I've gotta' do is tweak the layout and look of this new blog to resemble the rest of my site. I've already changed the fonts, but there's more to do. I suppose I'll be learning some more CSS.

And for those of you out there who wanted to be able to comment on my posts, you now have that option as well.

As I get more comfortable with CSS and WordPress, I'll be making this look better, but for now I have a functional little blog. Sweet. I hope you enjoy.

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