In the past couple days I've already received a few,
um, comments on the reading and writing test. Bad as that was,
I found out today some information about how the writing portion was
scored, and yes, it can get worse.
The writing samples were scored "holistically". This meant that
a student could get a proficient score on the test if "errors in conventions"
didn't detract from meaning. In other words, capitalization,
punctuation, spelling and grammar didn't matter... Still, only
around a third of the fourth-graders scored in the proficient or higher
categories! Now, I may not be a spelling wiz, but I still seem
to be far above the common level (that's what you get for reading
voraciously). I've even had an English-major friend tell me
that I know more about writing than he does ;) So how do these
kids end up knowing almost nothing of the written word? Is it
because writing assignments are harder to grade, and most teachers
don't want to spend the time grading them? Is it because of
"politically correct" teaching styles (I was scared when I found out
about "new math" - all answers are considered equally valid. These
people are the ones that will design our homes and cars in the future...)?
There will probably be more ranting about this. Give
you three guesses as to why...
Well, it's been a while, and I have a few topics to comment
on, and some of them can even be connected to Daria ;)
First, for those of you with shorter attention spans,
the site news. Sick Sad World is due a face-lift, and indeed
it's on my "To Do" list (not that I actually keep a list of things
to do, but you know what I mean). I'm finally nearing the completion
stages of The Book of Wraith. With luck (and lots of work),
I'll be putting that page back out on the net in a week or two - and
if you think SSW is a bit, well, sprawling, wait till you see this
I saw Starship Troopers over the weekend, and well. My
opinion of the movie is pretty well summed up elsewhere.
If you've seen it, have decided not to see it, and especially
if you're thinking about seeing it, you might want to check it out
(the comments, not the movie).
This doesn't have anything to do with Daria, but I thought
I'd mention it anyway. A couple weeks ago I picked up a copy
of Total Annihilation.
If you like real-time strategy games at all, this is
one game you won't want to miss.
I'm also going to make a comment on the 'au pair' trial,
since everyone else in the country seems to be. Hey, even Quinn
knows what an au pair is, that's gotta count for something...
First, I'll say that the limited amount of evidence I saw was enough
for a reasonable doubt. Of course, the problem with that is
that I didn't see all the evidence, or even a significant portion
of it. Almost all the people sounding off about the case are
leaping to conclusions based on the little the media has leaked out
(I'm not even going to get into biased reporting right now).
However, I rather doubt that seeing all the evidence would help
99% of the population. The one alternate juror who's made some
comments, a Harvard grad and PhD, has said he couldn't follow the
evidence. It was very technical medical lingo. There wasn't
a single doctor on the jury that I'm aware of, and I damn well know
someone who's having trouble stopping his VCR from flashing 12:00
all the time isn't exactly the one to go to judge between conflicting
technical reports. (This, of course, is one big problem with
the U.S. justice system...) I think the jury went for second-degree
murder mostly because they felt they had to convict her of something,
and that was the least they could go for. That's not what they're
supposed to do, but since when do humans do that? The defense
does have one point in it's favour, however. Their theory was
that the wounds were caused 3 weeks prior, and even the prosecution
admits the wrist fracture did. And yet... they never used the
standard assault defense. Even with Scheck (sp?) on the team,
no conspiracies, cover-ups, or frames have been mentioned. Rather
startling anymore, no? By the same token, this bothers me a
bit. If the wounds were caused three weeks prior, and then aggravated
by the nanny, who caused the original wounds? No-one has brought
this up that I'm aware of. The judge's decision doesn't bother
me. I didn't see the evidence, he did. And his verdict
has the true watermark of a fair and impartial decision in today's
legal system... both sides went away angry.
I'm much more bothered by the lawyers actions afterwards. Their
interviews on TV, playing to the public, trying to convince everyone
that they're right and their opponent is a lying sleeze-bag (which
is what most Americans think lawyers are anyway, so they needn't bother).
These guys make their living off of words. They should
have a vested interest in the sanctity of the language. And
yet.. they spend their time twisting words, finding meanings that
were never there or denying ones plain to see. The judges comments
on his verdict were released on the internet, and yet the lawyers
of both sides quoted selected portions of it to make their side look
better. And both twisted words beyond recognition. These
guys were almost as bad as most op/ed columnists. These are
also, by and large, the people writing the laws in the first place.
Ever try to read a legal document? I sometimes think that
if we ran all the law books through a rigorous semantic analysis,
we'd end up with maybe twenty pages of meaning...
(This one actually has something to with Daria. No,
really, it does.)
Last year, all Colorado fourth-graders took a test. It was a
state-wide standards test, to see how the schools were living up to
fairly recently passed education guidelines. The test covered
reading and writing, two topics near and dear to Daria's heart. Last
week, the results were released. Even before their release,
we knew they'd be bad news. The few people who did know the
results would only say they were "grim", and there was one confirmed
(and I kept an eye out for more, confirmed or not) report that the
scores were being "readjusted" so they'd look better. The results
were even worse than I expected (this is not a good thing to
hear from a pessimist). Barely half of Colorado fourth graders
were up to par in reading, and less than one third met the standards
in writing. Keep in mind, these are the adjusted scores.
I have yet to find out exactly how they were adjusted, but I
have my suspicions. There were several categories, such as 'superior'
(unfortunately, the paper that listed them out is missing) and I bet
the definition of what scores fit in which category was played around
with, so that more would fit in the passing ranges. The scores
were also broken down by school... and three schools in Denver produced
no students who met the reading or writing standards.
This comes after a few years of a campaign to improve reading,
by the way. This wasn't a fill-in-the-dots type test familiar
to anyone who's ever heard the term "scantron". There were section
where they actually had to write - how novel for a writing test (I
know, I know, very punny. I couldn't resist). Some of
the kids were asked about the test, and they thought it was the hardest
test they'd ever taken. They'd actually had to think and not
just fill in the dots (practically a direct quote, by the way, and
it would be if I could keep this family from throwing out newspapers).
What can be said about this besides 'It's pathetic'? Yet,
it's not the worst news. While there has been a massive 'literacy'
campaign, they seem to have forgotten half the definition of literacy.
There are plenty of schools (most of them, in fact) that emphasize
reading. Not one of them specifically emphasizes writing. Unless
something shocks a lot of twits (remember, school-boards are a strange
breed of political creature), we're going to be faced with a generation
of people who can read well enough, but couldn't write a paragraph
to save their life. Anyone out there going for an English major
(to learn how to write rather than because it's an "easy major" anyway)
may have a great job market in a few years. If all that doesn't
frighten you, well, imagine a world where Wraith's Ramblings is one
of the best-written pieces around. Scary, no?
I'll end with a (long) quote from a book by one of my
favourite authors, Terry
The Patrician was not a gardens kind of person. But
some of his predecessors had been, and Lord Vetinari never changed
or destroyed anything if there was no logical reason to do so. He
maintained the little zoo, and the racehorse stable, and even recognized
that the gardens themselves were of extreme historic interest because
this was so obviously the case.
They had been laid out by Bloody Stupid Johnson.
Many great landscape gardeners have gone down in history and been
remembered in a very solid way by the magnificent parks and gardens
that they designed with almost god-like power and foresight, thinking
nothing of making lakes and shifting hills and planting woodlands
to enable future generations to appreciate the sublime beauty of
wild Nature, transformed by Man. There have been Capability
Brown, Sagacity Smith, Intuition De Vere Slade-Gore...
In Ankh-Morpork, there was Bloody Stupid Johnson.
Bloody Stupid "It Might Look A Bit Messy Now But Just You Come Back
In Five Hundred Years' Time" Johnson. Bloody Stupid "Look,
The Plans Were The Right Way Round When I Drew Them" Johnson. Bloody
Stupid Johnson, who had 2,000 tons of earth built into an artificial
hillock in front of Quirm Manor because "It'd drive me mad to have
to look at a bunch of trees and mountains all day long, how about
The Anhk-Morpork palace grounds were considered the high spot, if
such it could be called, of his career. For example, they
contained the ornamental trout lake, one hundred and fifty yards
long and, because of one of those trifling errors of notation that
were such a distinctive feature of Bloody Stupid's designs, one
inch wide. It was the home of one trout, which was quite comfortable
provided it didn't try to turn around, and had once featured an
ornate fountain which, when first switched on, did nothing but groan
ominously for five minutes then fire a small stone cherub a thousand
feet into the air.
It contained the hoho, which was like a haha only deeper. A
haha is a concealed ditch and wall designed to allow landowners
to look out across rolling vistas without getting inconvenient poor
people wandering across the lawns. Under Bloody Stupid's errant
pencil it was dug fifty feet deep and had claimed three gardeners
The maze was so small people got lost looking for it.
But the Patrician rather liked the gardens, in a quiet kind of way.
He had certain views about the mentality of most of mankind,
and the gardens made him feel fully justified.
"Men at Arms" -- Terry Pratchett