Tuesday, July 2, 2013

By the Lake

Today’s blogging location – Frances Slocum State Park – a lakeside picnic table weathered, moss covered, and perhaps as old as I am.  I was up at 5:30 this morning as I was yesterday and I fear that I might be turning into my Grandma who was in bed each evening before 9 and up at the crack of dawn with the birds.  Of course it was to my advantage that she kept those hours, especially when I’d serve the 7:30 Mass and then go to her house for a rich breakfast of buttered Saltine crackers and a thick cup of hot chocolate after, “Ite Missa Est. Deo Gratias.”  For me, getting up so early doesn't benefit anybody, least of all me, but nevertheless here I am two hours out of bed sitting beside as serene a scene as I might have hoped to find.

A train on the way to just about anywhere is usually a decided bonus!

I wasn't sure if I should trust the weatherman when I ventured out on the scooter.  By the look of the sky, I’m still not sure if my choice was prudent, but Doppler radar suggests that I should be safe for a few hours at least.  Then again, I've gotten fairly wet at times in spite of what the radar picture looked like when I left the house, so it’s never totally safe to trust the forecasts.  As insurance, I chose a table not too far from a pavilion should I feel some drips and drops starting, but for now I’m doing okay.

A month ago I still had two weeks of school to finish and didn't think the end would ever come.  I am now into my third week of vacation and if I could go back and change a single minute of the time that’s passed since I walked out of my classroom door, I wouldn't change a thing.  The time I've spent outside of school even for this short a time has replenished my spirit magnificently.  The ultimate return to work I will lament loudly, but I’m savoring what I have for the time being and trying to think of that day in the not too distant future as little as possible.

I love the sounds here.  Birds.  Trees rustling in a breeze.  Even the purr of electric motors on a few fishing boats.  A lady encouraging her dog to keep up with her.  The occasional whiz of the reel of the old gent fishing off the dock.  There’s nothing particularly special about any of them, yet they touch my soul because they’re not the sounds of my usual, daily life, and they take me away from my familiar chair almost magically.

I look up between sentences and longer phrases and just drink in the sight of the lake rippling in front of me.  The waves moving, as they have no doubt for centuries, regardless of whether or not there’s somebody to watch them moving carry my spirit far, far away from the daily grind.  If not for my short attention span (Woof!) I could sit here for much longer than I’d ever plan to do.

A guy just stopped in an SUV to talk (by calling across the parking lot) to the fisherman on the dock who had been talking to the lady with the dog when she got near him.  From their conversation it’s apparent that they come here often, perhaps daily like the old men who meet at just about any McDonalds in the morning to pore over the paper and talk (loudly) about days gone by.  Every time I see one of those groups of guys or ladies at Mickey D’s I think about how if a group of kids were making the same amount of noise, they’d be told to leave.  It’s like that with Red Hat Ladies too, but as usual I digress.

The sky suggested the threat of rain no matter how empty the Doppler radar suggested the sky might be of it.

I've noticed as I’m sure you have as well if you've read down this far that my fingers keep working on these keys, but I’m not really saying anything.  I don’t really care because where I am inside of myself, as I've been for the past few weeks, is even better than I’d hoped it would be when I was finally free for the summer.

The can of Diet Pepsi I brought with me is nearly depleted and that, along with the coffee I guzzled before I ventured out is beginning to suggest that it might be time for me to seek out a bathroom.  I could probably leave everything of mine right here on this table, scooter to where I need to go and back, and find everything just where I left it.  I won’t risk it, though.  I do regret having become cynical and jaded over time, but I do value my things more than I have any concern for somebody who might like to have a netbook and cell phone without having to buy it himself.

Well, I answered nature’s call and scootered over to the other picnic area around a bend in the lake from where I’d been.  I plopped myself down at a table and just stared out at the water for a while wondering if there was anything left in me to write for today.  There wasn't until a young family spilled out of their car and started chattering.

I suppose I need to say for those of you who are my friends here that I still love teaching, i.e., my time in the classroom with the kids.  I complain about it often enough here to lead somebody to believe that I’d rather be doing something else for a living, but that’s not quite true.  The sounds of the kids in the parking lot were like music to my ears.

What I’m tired of, after 30 years, is being told that we’re going to try new things and do new things because somebody on high ordained it.  Education works, not because of applied research, but in spite of it. It's the softest of the "soft sciences" because NO new method is going to work on a kid who got beaten before he was put on the school bus and didn't have a meal since yesterday's free lunch.  

I've seen changes come down the pike for over half my lifetime.  I've been forced to do things that I don’t believe in, and invariably, after a whole bunch of time, energy, and grief, all the new program are eventually abandoned.  Universities need to stop issuing graduate degress in education that require thesis writing because new theses lead to new programs that just don't work, and we need to go back to the tried and true pedagogy that turned out people in the late 1800s who wrote better than we do today.  To the “methods” that led to the invention of Calculus.  To the teaching styles that had scholars doing scholarly things and doing them well, millennia before the birth of Christ.  Heck, I'd go back to having kids whacked around by a nun before jumping on some of the newer theories full of gobbledegook that I've had forced down my throat.

End of sermon.  There’s a lake here to enjoy!  "It's a beautiful day in Pennsylvania," as Manny Gordon used to say.


CA95608 said...

Joe, as usual I enjoyed reading your blog. Your perspective on the ills of the present state of the education system had me muttering "Damnit, that's right!".

Good Sermon.

Cheers, Kim

kz1000st said...

My wife is a reading teacher here in New York. Last year when they introduced Common Core here she complained that no Reading Teachers seemed to have a say in its methodology. Guess what? She ultimately discovered that NO TEACHERS were included in its formation. Just scientists that used data driven formulas to determine that students in rural upstate NY schools needed the same testing and learning methods as children in New York City. See the problem?

Joe said...

Good intuition! It's precisely Common Core about which I have my knickers in a knot. It's not a bad idea in general to hope for mastery of certain skills at given levels, but as usual the concept is being horribly applied by the ivory tower guys rather than those of us here in the trenches who know more about what works and what doesn't. It's going to create a paperwork jungle for us, but with no tangible results. That's my prediction at least.

kz1000st said...

Maybe this will give you some Hope.