Tag Archives: testing

My Current Novel Project -Sing Sad Songs

Here is a sample chapter from my rough draft to give you an idea of how this nonsense is progressing.

Blue Dawn

Canto 25 – Wish Upon a Star

I honestly was just minding my own business.  The bar, I mean.  I was minding the bar.  Ugly Bill and his idiot child were talking to the FBI somewhere they didn’t bother to inform me about.  Orgus, Bill’s truck-driving uglier son was in the hospital.  And my brother Richard was home in front of the TV pretending to be sick or something.  It was just me, Captain Noah Dettbarn, and an amazing number of unwashed glasses in a business that hardly ever had customers enough to get multiple glasses dirty.

The Captain was busy with his one and only bottle for the day, probably thinking about the South Seas Islands where he used to go by cargo ship.  A place where palm trees swayed in the breeze and tropical girls danced in grass skirts with no tops on.  I envied his memories.  So much more colorful than small-town Iowa in October.  Why did it always seem to be October in Iowa, anyway?  Sweater weather and cold snaps and early frost.

But my regrets and glass-washing were interrupted by the whole gaggle of Norwall Pirates coming into the bar where they really weren’t supposed to be.

Billy was leading the way, followed by that danged Ricky kid.  I knew he would be back.  And Francois and little silent black kid and then the two girls, Mary and Val.

“Ricky wants to try the singing machine,” Billy said.  “Would that be okay? Please?”

I glared at them all.  “What have I got to lose?  The instruction book is on top of it.  And if Ricky breaks it, Ricky’s daddy the cop has to pay for it.”

Ricky grinned at me.  “You know he don’t have no money, right?”

So, like a flock of pigeons or a gaggle of geese they circled around the clunky Japanese squawker box and started chirping and arguing and other things that were hard to ignore.  I couldn’t help but notice how pretty young Valerie really was.  Even in baggy Fall clothes, she had a body and face that were going to take her far in life and going to break more than one heart.  I wondered if she was in any danger from the Teddy Bear Killer that Ugly Bill was going to help capture.  Of course, I knew the pervert only killed boys.  Still, I had to wonder.

“So that’s what you have to do,” Billy was explaining from the manual.  “And now all you have to do is pick one, put the number in, and sing.”

“I try first!” Sang out Ricky.

“Don’t you wanna let the deaf kid sing first?” I asked.  “I have never heard his voice.”

“Uncle Victor, you know he can’t speak except in sign language.”  Billy was glaring back at me.  That skinny little hairball on stick legs was trying to correct my social skills.  Nuts to that.  I ate a few more antacid tablets.

“That would be perfect for me,” I grumbled to myself.

“Here’s the one I want,” Ricky declared, “Steppenwolf, Born to be Wild.”

Billy helped him type in the right series of numbers, then the screeching began.

“Get your motor running…!” he bellowed like a moose during mating season.  “Head out on the highway…”

I regretted not buying earplugs when I bought the damned karaoke thingy.  I regretted it almost as much as not being on a South Sea island with girls in grass skirts and no tops.

“Looking for adventure…!”  I started fixating on counting the bar glasses on the counter behind me, anything but listening to that moose-mating noise pollution.  I also re-stacked the coasters and cleaned the peanut bowls.  I successfully refocused my attention to totally ignore Ricky destroying that song.

“Oh, gawd!  I only get twenty-five percent on that score?  I thought I sang better than that!”

“That was pretty awful, Rick,” Valerie said diplomatically.

Ricky looked angry, but everybody else was nodding agreement.  So, the kid gave up and pressed the microphone into Francois’s hand.  The French boy entered a code surprisingly quickly.

“When you wish upon a star…”

My beloved Jesus!  It was electrifyingly good right from the very first note.

“Makes no difference who you are…”

They were all listening with their mouths open.

“Anything your heart desires… will come to you…”

Even the Captain was listening.  I swear I saw tears in his old red eyes.

“If your heart is in your dreams… no request is too extreme…”

I couldn’t help but think about how depressed this kid had been since I brought him here.  He’d lost his whole family.  He’d been in the back seat of the car with them when they had died.  He’d been sleeping hour after hour at our house because he was too sad to do anything but dream.  And here he was putting his whole soul into a song about dreams and wishes and stars… and I… um… I was about to cry too when he hit that last long beautiful note.

The song ended, and everyone was stunned.  The machine put fireworks on the screen and scored him one hundred percent.

Francois spotlight 2

“Sing it again,” said Valerie, softly.  It was the only thing anyone could say.  And then he sang it again, just as amazingly beautiful as the first time.  And he scored one hundred again.  Everyone was sniffling or openly crying because it was so touching.  Especially pretty little Valerie who had lost her own father only a couple of years ago.  Her cheeks were dripping wet.

“Vicar, you gotta have him sing that again tonight,” said the Captain.  “People have got to hear that.  I mean… gawd dang!  That was amazing!  I gotta bring folks here to hear that.”

And I knew he was right.  That was not something we could afford to keep to ourselves.  That kid had real talent.

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Aeroquest… Adagio 2 – Nebulons

Aeroquest banner a

Adagio 2 – Nebulons

 

     I am one of the few Scientist/Historians ever to make a thorough examination of Nebulon physiology and culture. It helped that I lived with some of them for a while, even helping to raise a couple of very young ones. And unlike the cross-bred lizard-Russian-Galtorrian-Human idiots who were the superior authority and dominant race of the Galtorr Imperium, I didn’t try to belittle them as mere “Space Smurfs” and take their existence as a joke.  As a participant in the destruction of the Galtorr Imperium and the rise of the New Star League, I, Googol Marou, can speak with some authority on the subject of Nebulons.

Suffice it to say, the present shape of the Milky Way Civilization in the Orion Spur owes much to the nature of Space Smurfs.  They were critical to the Imperial defeat and the unification of the New Stars.  You will see more of that in this history, well, unless I inadvertently forget to tell you that part.  I have been known to get a bit absent-minded when my mind is on superior matters of science, or the baking of pies.  But I have to admit to my great shame, that I, like most Imperials, was prejudiced against the Nebulons at the start.  We thought them in many ways inferior because of their living technologies and small stature.  What we didn’t realize is that their neotyny, their child-like physical make-up, was evidence that they were indeed more advanced than we in an evolutionary sense.  They were also environmentally friendly, living in symbiotic peace with their living technology. Instead of exploiting worlds, as the humans and Galtorrians had done, they created new living environments.

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Now, my genetic inquiries proved that Nebulons were practically identical to Earthers.  They were capable of interbreeding with us without genetic manipulations.  That makes them more like us than a Galtorrian, even a crossbred Galtorrian/Human fusion.  They also possessed a few advantages we didn’t have.  The copper-sulfate-based pigments in their skins were originally caused by diet and exposure to nebula radiation.  It gave them immunity to radiation that was deadly to any other humanoid.  The bright yellow hair was apparently also due to exotic radiation exposure over centuries.  I formed a theory that Nebulons may have originated on Earth and evolved as they explored deep space, beyond the known stars of the Thousand Worlds.

Now, as to their culture, they center it around living organisms that function symbiotically.  Their spaceships are the Great Nebula Space Whales, those strange fish-shaped balloon-beings that apparently bred in the depths of mighty gas giant planets and migrated to the gaseous clouds of nebula space.  They are much the same size as an Imperial Dreadnaught, and can easily support 500,000 Nebulons in their oxygenated inner chambers.  They even have spaces in their heads where the Nebulon pilots can live and function, tickling nerve endings to get the space behemoths to fold space and jump light years in an instant.  Manipulating jump space is the same whether you do it with a massive photon drive, or the natural glands of a space whale.  It is a matter of using gravity to fold space at a weak point in the fabric of space, making a worm-hole to another part of space, usually no more than six parsecs distant (for those who are math-challenged, that means about nineteen and a half light years), and coming out of jump space at the end of a spider web-like trail that litters space with the cobwebs of interstellar travel.

Nebulons also make clothing of living tissue that keeps the body it surrounds at the proper temperature, and absorbs and digests all dirt, sweat, and dead skin cells.  Nebulon clothing is self-cleaning!  It also grows with the young to avoid the need for ever changing it.  I can’t wear Nebulon cloth without cringing, because I know what it really is, but I am told that if you get used to it, it is like a perfect second skin.

nebbby

Nebulons exhibit a child-like love for life, treasuring each others’ presence and having fun almost all the time.  I have come to find them truly endearing.  They rarely go to war with each other, and have to be seriously goaded into fighting by any potential enemy.  It turns out that it is a sad thing that we can’t all be more like Nebulons.  And to think we wasted all those centuries despising them for their differences!

 

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Toccata and Fugue in D Minor

Johann Sebastian Bach may or may not have written his organ masterpiece, Toccata and Fugue in D Minor in 1704.  All we know for sure is that the combined efforts of Johannes Ringk, who saved it in manuscript form in the 1830’s, and Felix Mendelssohn who performed it and made it a hit you could dance to during the Bach Revival in 1840 made it possible to still hear its sublime music today.  Okay, maybe not dance to exactly…  But without the two of them, the piece might have been lost to us in obscurity.

The Toccata part is a composition that uses fast fingerings and a sprightly beat to make happy hippie type music that is really quite trippy.   The Fugue part (pronounced Fyoog, not Fuggwee which I learned to my horror in grade school music class) is a part where one part of the tune echoes another part of the tune and one part becomes the other part and then reflects it all back again.  I know that’s needlessly confusing, but at least I know what I mean.  That is not always a given when I am writing quickly like a Toccata.

I have posted two different versions for you to listen to in this musical metaphor nonsensical posticle… err… Popsicle… err… maybe just post.  One is the kinda creepy organ version like you might find in a Hammer Films monster movie in the 1970’s.  The other is the light and fluffy violin version from Disney’s Fantasia.  I don’t really expect you to listen to both, but listening to one or the other would at least give you a tonal hint about what the ever-loving foolishness I am writing in this post is really all about.

You see, I find sober thoughts in this 313-year-old piece of music that I apply to the arc of my life to give it meaning in musical measure.

Toccata and Fugue

This is the Paffooney of this piece, a picture of my wife in her cartoon panda incarnation, along with the panda persona of my number two son.  The background of this Paffooney is the actual Ringk manuscript that allowed Bach’s masterwork not to be lost for all time.

My life was always a musical composition, though I never really learned piano other than to pick out favorite tunes by ear.  But the Bach Toccata and Fugue begins thusly;

The Toccata begins with a single-voice flourish in the upper ranges of the keyboard, doubled at the octave. It then spirals toward the bottom, where a diminished seventh chord appears (which actually implies a dominant chord with a minor 9th against a tonic pedal), built one note at a time. This resolves into a D major chord.

I interpret that in prose thusly;

Life was bright and full of promise when I was a child… men going to the moon, me learning to draw and paint, and being smarter than the average child to the point of being hated for my smart-asserry and tortured accordingly.  I was sexually assaulted by an older boy and spiraled towards the bottom where I was diminished for a time and mired in a seventh chord of depression and despair.  But that resolved into a D major chord when the realization dawned that I could teach and help others to learn the music of life.

And then the Fugue begins in earnest.  I set the melody and led my students to repeat and reflect it back again.  Over and over, rising like a storm and skipping like a happy child through the tulips that blossom as the showers pass.  Winding and unwinding in equal measure, my life progressed to a creaky old age.  But the notes of regret in the conclusion are few.  The reflections of happinesses gained are legion.  I have lived a life I do not regret.  I may not have my music saved in the same way Johann Sebastian did, but I am proud of the whole of it.  And whether by organ or by violin, it will translate to the next life, and will continue to repeat.  What more can a doofus who thinks teaching and drawing and telling stories are a form of music ask for from life?

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Boo Boo Testing

Blue and Mike in color

I miss being a teacher.  But even if I was suddenly healthy enough again to return to the classroom, I would have to think twice… or three times… or twelve times about it.  I know excellent teachers who are being driven out of the education field by the demands of the job in the current educational whirlpool of death and depression.  My own children are very bright and capable, but they face State of Texas mandated tests this next couple of weeks because that’s what we do in Texas, test kids and test kids and test them some more.  If we don’t stress them out and make them fail on the first round of testing, there will be at least two more to get the job done.  And believe me, the real reason for all the testing is to make kids fail.  It sounds harsh, and like one of my loony conspiracy theories, but the Republican legislature of this State has discussed in earnest how test results prove our schools are failing, and how we must certainly need to fund more private schools and schools for profit, and stop teaching kids on the taxpayer’s dime (although they don’t really care about my dimes, only the dimes of millionaires and billionaires which we have more of in Texas than we have ever had before).  Of course, these private schools they speak of will be for the children of well-to-do families, particularly white Anglo-Saxon protestant families.  Public schools will be okay for everyone else, preferably built next to for-profit prisons where the public-school kids will move after graduation.

in the wild

Arts and humanities-type class offerings are becoming increasingly rare.  We don’t teach them to be creative any more.  We have to focus on core subjects, Reading, Writing, History, Science, and Math.  And not the high-level stuff in any of those areas, either.  We test them on the minimum competency stuff.  But we make it harder every year.  Back in the 80’s it started when Governor Mark White let H. Ross Perot spearhead a school-reform drive that began with idiot-tests for teachers.  The Mad Dwarf of Dallas was convinced that the biggest problem with Texas Education was incompetent teachers.  But we didn’t test them on classroom management skills, or skill at motivating young learners.  We took basic English tests where the teachers weeded out were mostly black and Hispanic.  I helped one very gifted Science teacher pass the test which she nearly failed three times (the limit before contract non-renewal) since she was taking her teacher test in her second language, not her first.  When they finally got it through their heads they were only weeding out the good teachers with test anxiety, they changed the tests to make them harder.  They stopped giving life-time teaching certificates and made you prove that you were not an idiot every five years.

Teacher

It was Governor George W. Bush (a Forest Gump clone with DNA mixed in from Bullwinkle the Moose and Elmer Fudd) who decided that teachers needed to be weeded by demanding that their students perform to a certain level on standardized State tests.  If you watched the John Oliver video, you have a clear idea already of the value of that.  We worked hard for a number of years to do better on the alphabet tests.  The TAAS test became passable by most of the State, including the poorer districts, and so they replaced it with the TAKS test, a criterion-referenced test that they could provide all new and harder questions for every single year.  I sat on a test review board for two years as the representative of the Cotulla District in South Texas.  I got to see some of the horrendously difficult question before they were asked.  There were very real cultural discriminations among those questions.  Why should a Hispanic child in South Texas be required to know what “galoshes” are?  And when teachers began teaching to the tests well enough to get a majority of students passing, Emperor Rick Perry, the permanent Governor of Texas after Bush, decreed we needed STAAR Tests that students had to pass in order to graduate to the next grade level.  And, of course, we had to make them harder.

sweet thing

When I started teaching exclusively ESL kids in high school (English as a Second Language) that special population was mostly exempt from taking the alphabet tests.  After all, it takes at least five years to gain proficiency in a second language even for the brightest among us, and all of those students had less than five years of practice speaking English or they weren’t qualified for the program.  But scores on the TAKS and then STAAR tests were generally too high.  So ESL and Special Education Students were required to take them too.  And, although the passing standards were lower for ESL students than they were for regular students, the passing standards were ratcheted up every single year.  And we eventually did worse than the expectation.  Our ESL Department got a lot of the blame for Naaman Forest High School in Garland, Texas losing its perennial recognized school status.  (We got the blame even though our scores were high enough to be rated exemplary on the sliding scale… it was actually the low socio-economic students in Math that lost us our yearly recognition… just so you know.)  The paperwork nightmares I had to fill out for our ESL Department were one of the reasons my health got so bad I had to retire.  Healthy teachers can’t take it any more either.  We are looking at a crisis in Education in Texas.  Teacher shortages in Math and Science are already apocalyptic.  We are intentionally doing away with Art, Band, Chorus, and other artsy-craftsy things… things that are good for the brain and the self-esteem and the creative problem-solving abilities of students.  Teaching has become a nightmare.

I hope you will take me seriously over my conspiracy-theories and lunatic teacher complaints.  I have been told too often that you can’t solve education’s problems by throwing money at it (though I do not remember the time they speak of when money was actually flying through the air).  I have been told too often that teaching isn’t a real job.  You just sit around all day and talk to kids and you have the summers off.  How hard can that be?  And I have been told too many times that Johnny can’t read, and it is apparently my fault as a Reading teacher… it can’t be anything politicians have done, right?  It certainly isn’t anything that politicians have done right!

God help me, in spite of all that, I really miss being a teacher.

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Teachers Must Fail (Educational Ruminations about Ruination)

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The fact is, being a teacher is the same as accepting the necessity of failure.  Yes, I know it is a sort of metaphorical nightmare to say that, and I don’t mean that I am planning to give F’s to kids.  I would prefer never to fail a kid, because it means I failed the kid.  Failure is, however, the ruling factor in teaching.

In my teaching Paffooney which I call “Reluctant Rabbit Teaches a Few Good Notes”, you see me as a teacher with my pack of very diverse and desk-hopping students doing what I do best.  I teach reading by making them read, reading with them and to them, helping them to ask questions about what they read and never answering those questions for them (after all, they learn better if they do the work rather than having me do the work for them).  I teach them to write by reading what they write and responding to it, and by writing myself and sharing that with them too.  Reluctant Rabbit teaches in these two ways by using his giant magic pencil of cartoons and music to create the Great Symphony of Learning.  It turns out that teaching like this is often considered a subversive act.

But teaching is all about failure.  In Texas Education, the powers that be have constructed a system of education designed specifically to make teachers fail.  It really began with Mark White as Governor and H. Ross Perot as the mad troll of education.  Back then they decided to get rid of incompetent and idiot teachers by giving State-wide teacher idiot tests.  They gave us basic reading and writing tests to determine if we were worthy to keep our jobs.  I remember trying to comfort a very wonderful Hispanic Science teacher who was worried that her language skills would take away the job she loved.  But what they didn’t realize about teaching is that if a teacher is not basically competent, then the students will eat them.  Teaching in the classroom will remove the incompetent teacher (though not necessarily the ineffective one).

When George Bush and then Emperor-for-Life Rick Perry took over the drive to make teachers fail, they added the notion that you had to give students idiot tests and punish their teachers for the fact that students are naturally immature and basically idiots.  Teaching became less about learning stuff and more about idiot-transformation.  Stamp out idiocy by teaching them how to pass the idiot tests.

When we reached the point we were about to master the TAAS  test (Texas Assessment of Donkey-hole Students), the State decided they had to change to the TAKS test (Texas Assessment of Kooky Stuff).  We closed in on mastering TAKS, and the State quickly switched to End-Of-Course STAAR Tests (Stupid Teachers Aren’t About to Rejoice).  What has been the point of all this testing?  It is like trying to measure your child’s growth with a ruler that is constantly getting bigger.  No matter how much progress you make, it will look like the child is shrinking.  This, of course, is exactly the goal of this red State’s education system.  Public schools have to fail so the Republican masters of profit can privatize and make schools run for profit (except for poor people’s schools which are intended to properly prepare poor people for prison).

It breaks my heart, but schools are increasingly places for boosting the rich and busting the poor.  Schools that have high poverty populations, like the schools I have worked for,  are left to struggle and die on their own, grinding up young and idealistic teachers as well as old and cancerously cynical teachers that don’t believe in following the rules.  My State is not the only State trying to do away with a free and valuable public education.

Consider the case of Ruben, one of my students I once tried to help and simply couldn’t save.    Ruben was a skinny Hispanic fourteen-year-old who wasn’t living with his parents.  He bounced from grandparents to aunts to uncles and back again.  He was extremely bright and fiercely independent.  But he wouldn’t do schoolwork and didn’t seem to care if he was dooming himself to a lifetime in the seventh grade. 

A boy from a better household, a more privileged boy, began picking on Ruben.  I caught Victor pushing Ruben around and trying to goad him into a fight, a fight he knew he could win because he was bigger, heavier, and training to be a Gold Gloves boxer.

“What can I do to help, Ruben?” I asked.

“No stupid gringo can do anything to help.  I can fight my own battles.”

He had a point.  I could stop the behavior from happening in school, but once he left campus, I had no authority and the police didn’t figure it was a police matter.  So, what would the outcome be?

Ruben took care of the problem by joining a gang.  The Town Freaks in San Antonio was actually a local chapter of the Bloods from Los Angeles.  They would go on to become the San Antonio Kingz.   When Ruben was being initiated into the gang, they stole a pickup truck in South San Antonio.  They got into a car chase with the police.  The truck rolled over under an overpass and everyone in the back of the truck was killed.  Ruben was one of those.

It still makes me weep to write about it, or even think about it.  If I had had any resources at all to help that boy…  If I could have … Why did I have to fail?  But blaming myself never gives me any comfort.  I learned to do whatever I could to help kids stay away from gangs, to learn in ways that were painless, and be able to talk to an adult instead of trying to handle everything themselves.  I mentored a number of fatherless boys, or boys who had alcoholic fathers and mothers, poor kids who had nowhere else to go and nothing else to do.  We played computer games and Dungeons and Dragons, replaced by a science fiction role playing game when the Baptists objected to the original game.  I was even accused and investigated as a possible child molester because so many boys visited my apartment before I got married.  Of course, the authorities found out the truth (some of them knew before I was accused) and were a little bit embarrassed to be asking me such questions when so many people were willing to come to my defense.  I learned to dream the impossible dream.  You can actually save a kid from poverty and self-doubt.  One of my boys went to Notre Dame University.  Another went into the Marines and specialized in intelligence.  I recently learned that a couple of my former students have become teachers for the same school I labored at for over twenty-three years .

Okay, Mr. Rabbit, you have tooted your own horn, now.  Are you going to tell us that teachers don’t ultimately fail?

Sorry, I’m afraid that they do.  I am facing the end of my teaching career now.  With diabetes, arthritis, hypertension, and three more incurable diseases, I am trying to teach with diminishing energy, making a forty-five minute commute to my school across north Dallas twice every day that is going to kill me, and skills that are becoming somewhat shaky in the face of stress at work.  I am human.  I will not last much longer.  The State is busy trying to reduce the retirement that after thirty-one years I think I deserve.  It isn’t enough money to keep my family going as it is. 

And part of that failure is not entirely bad.  A new generation is bound to take over and carry on.  As I diminish, someone will rise up to take up the torch.  In fact, I need to vacate my position so someone who needs a classroom to start their career can begin to learn how to reach out to the Rubens they will encounter.  So, I apologize for promising humor and then trying to make you cry.  I probably only succeeded in bringing myself to tears.  Teachers ultimately fail just as all men eventually die, but the War on Ignorance is not yet over, and we will never have to admit defeat.

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