Monthly Archives: April 2014

Testing, Testing

It’s spring. For some people that means baseball, for other people it means getting the garden ready, and for a few (a very, very few) it means cleaning. But for the parents of school age children spring only means one thing: standardized testing.

It would be hard to figure out who hates standardized testing more: the teachers who have to waste so much time on it, the parents who have to endure the pleas of the schools to make sure their children show up “fit, tan and rested” on test days, or the students who have to actually take the test. In fact, I think the only people who really like standardized tests are the companies who sell them and the legislators who get to pretend they care about education by ordering them.

In case I haven’t made myself clear, I despise standardized testing. I firmly believe that not only is it micro-managing of the worst sort, but that it also does nothing to improve our schools or our children. If anything, it makes them worse. Think back to all of your favorite memories of your favorite teachers: how many of them involved filling in little bubbles with a No. 2 pencil? No, the memories that stick with us are the ones where teachers went above and beyond to help us learn something, where they taught us with passion and enthusiasm. And that passion and enthusiasm can only come from a true place inside: it cannot be legislated into existence.

I know that we need a way to measure the progress of teachers, students, and schools, but to suggest that there is a “one size fits all” solution to this is insulting to all concerned. There are better ways to determine success, but as is usually the case with “better” ways, that would mean more effort on the part of the people determining the success.

The only true way to measure a classroom’s progress is to measure it against itself: a test that decides that the classroom that went from a 30% average to a 55% average is doing worse than a classroom that went from 75% to 80% is clearly missing the point. As is a test that fails to recognize the difference between a classroom located in a peaceful, middle class neighborhood and a classroom located in a community where the major employer pulled up stakes and left six months previous.

Having said all this I recognize the bind that this puts me, my children, and their teachers in: even though I firmly believe that standardized tests—at least the way they are done now—are useless and damaging, I also know that they are the measuring stick by which schools and teachers are judged. So here’s the dilemma: do I encourage my kids to take and do their best on these tests, knowing that their positive contribution is helping their teachers now, or do I take my children and “opt out,” knowing that ultimately this decision will be helping teachers in the future?

Luckily this year the decision was taken out of my hands, since the middle school AIMS test had the gall to schedule itself right in the middle of not one, not two, but three punk concerts, and we all know that the family that moshes together stays together. There was also this holiday called “Good Friday,” or something that people seemed equally worked up about, so I think some other kids might have missed as well.

I doubt I’ll be fortunate enough to have such a perfect excuse again next year, though, so in all probability I’ll just have to suck it up and make a decision on my own. Or who knows? Maybe the legislature will get their act together and make the right decision for me.

Yeah, I’m not holding my breath either.

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Keys, Keys, Keys

When my daughter, Clementine, got her first car last year, we had a few spare keys made. Well, actually, we had more than a few made. Sure, the lady at the key-making kiosk looked at us a little funny when we asked to have nine spares made, but we figured it was better to be safe than sorry. After all, this way we would never have to worry about making another spare key again. This way we could rest assured that there would always be at least one spare key available when we needed one. Because who could possibly manage to lose nine spare keys, right? Yeah, I’m pretty sure you can see where this is going.

That’s right: last month marked the losing of the very last spare key. I think, if this trend keeps up, there might very well come a day when picking up a lost key off of the ground means that you have a one in fifteen chance of owning the key to Clementine’s car. Or, since she swears that every single one of the keys are still in our house—it’s here somewhere, I just had it!—it means that the next time you read about a house being struck by lightning you will probably be reading about mine, since the sheer amount of metal that must be tucked into every nook and cranny of my (not that big) house should be enough to tempt even the most mild mannered of thunderstorms.

At this point the question really becomes not whether or not Clementine is actually learning anything from losing all of these keys, (because how could she not be?) but rather what, exactly, is it that she is learning? Because it’s certainly not “always put your keys in the same place.” Unless she has learned that, and the “same place” she has chosen has been “somewhere in the ether.”

We do have a mysterious hole in our floor that is big enough to accommodate pencils, AA batteries, and green beans, (as my son, Clyde discovered not long after his second birthday). As far as I know, however, this hole doesn’t lead to the ether, but rather to a crawl space under our house. And since this crawl space also contains—according to my husband—the mummified remains of no less than three “cat-like creatures,” it shall henceforth also be known as the final resting place of all those missing pens and AA batteries, at least until such time as the zombie apocalypse makes such things worth more than avoiding a case of the raging heebie-jeebies.

Having said all of that, however, I do not think this hole is big enough for a Toyota key. And if it is, well, then, as far as I’m concerned that’s yet another thing to look forward to during the zombie apocalypse. Speaking of zombie apocalypses (surely the word for multiple apocalypses should be apocali?), I wonder if that will be what finally forces the losing gene out of humans: after all, natural selection would not seem to favor the zombie hunter who is continually misplacing their gun. Although you’d also think it wouldn’t favor the person who continually misplaces the key to the means of their escape, either. But then again, natural selection can be sneaky.

Come to think of it, maybe this isn’t really about Clementine, and what she’s learning, at all. After all, I’m the one who keeps making spare keys. Maybe I’m the one who’s actually being trained. And maybe natural selection isn’t really interested in breeding the losing gene out of children, but rather breeding the finding gene into mothers.

Now there’s a depressing thought for you. I think I’d rather just think about the zombie apocalypse. I wonder how much mummified cats will be going for by then?

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Hamster Boy

I have always been adamantly opposed to the idea of children having rodents for pets. It’s not that I’m scared of them (rodents, that is): on the contrary, I grew up on a farm, and it wasn’t that uncommon to stick my hand into a fifty pound bag of feed at stupid o’clock in the morning only to have an entire mouse convention use my arms, shoulders and hair to evacuate the building. (There is no amount of espresso that can equal that for a wake up call). And it’s not that I think they’re creepy (rodents, that is): every time I watch Willard I root for the rats. No, the reason I am so dead set against having rodent for pets is the smell. I can’t abide the smell of a manky hamster cage.

And yeah, I know: mice and gerbils and hamsters and rats and guinea pigs and sugar gliders and freaking hedgehogs are all “very fastidious,” and given the chance will keep their living quarters so spotless you’ll think they had some kind of vermin OCD. They’ll arrange their exercise tubes into such soul-affirming, feng shui-like sculptures that Martha Stewart would flat out weep with envy. They’ll spend the rest of their short, brutish little lives with a bleach pen in their pockets. If, that is, they are only given the chance.

But that’s the thing, isn’t it? They aren’t given the chance. They aren’t given the chance because they are children’s pets, and children are the nastiest, foulest creatures that ever drew breath. “Oh, but given the chance children will keep their living quarters spotless,” said nobody, ever. So yeah, given that I really hate the smell of a dirty hamster cage, and that the only way I could be sure of having a clean hamster cage in my house would be to 1) clean it myself, or 2) never actually put a hamster in it, I have always quite firmly vetoed the idea of ever bringing home a pet rodent.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I walked into my son Clyde’s room the other day and smelled the unmistakeable odor of wet hamster. And imagine how even more surprised I was to find that there was no hamster in the room. None. I checked. Which meant that we were either being haunted by the vengeful spirit of an incontinent hamster, or that Clyde’s (un)natural boy funk is now officially the worst thing I have ever smelled.

I must admit that I was seriously hoping for option number one; in fact, I don’t think I have ever prayed so hard from a visit from the “other side” in my life. Alas, it was not to be. The room was not being haunted by the ghosts of hamster past, present or future. It was, indeed, all Clyde’s funk.

The worst part is that I can’t even tell what it is, exactly, that has ratcheted the smell up to this new level of rankness. Is it the sweaty socks or the sweaty boy? Or perhaps the sweaty socks on the sweaty boy? Or maybe it is something else entirely. For all I know it’s not his fault at all: maybe the cat is peeing on an electrical outlet.

I suppose I could make more of an effort to find out. After all, there are perfumers out there whose noses are sensitive enough to detect all of the different notes in a perfume. Their noses can parse out the hints of vanilla from the touch of frangipani, and even figure out whether it needs more or less primrose. I sincerely doubt, however, that they have ever been called upon to separate all of the different odors in a twelve-year-old boy’s bedroom.

Or if they have, I’m pretty sure they haven’t done it more than once.

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Boy Trouble

I have had my son, Clyde, for nearly thirteen years. Thirteen years of dealing with crazy boy energy. Thirteen years of dealing with someone whose reaction to falling down and hurting themselves is to fall down and hurt themselves all over again. Thirteen years of finding out that he even got hurt in the first place by following the trail of blood on the kitchen floor. (I never thought I’d have to establish a “clean up your own blood” rule in my house, but there you have it.)

You’d think, then, that after thirteen years, I would be used to all things boy. I would be used to energy levels that ping between “out of control” and “way, way out of control.” I would be used to watching someone vibrate like a tuning fork when asked to, not even “sit still,” but rather to “sit in a stiller manner than before.” You’d think I’d be used to all that. And you’d be very wrong.

The problem is that as soon as I get used to one level of hyper, say the nine-year-old boy version of hyper, he cranks it up another level entirely. Forget “this one goes to eleven” and try “this one goes to infinity minus one.”

Activity only seems to make it worse: how else would you explain someone coming home from a two hour workout session and immediately deciding that the best way to cool down is to chase their sister around the house while pretending to be possessed by a demon. (Actually, we’re all hoping that he was pretending.)

The worst part, for me at least, is that I have absolutely no personal experience with this. Not only have I never been a pubescent boy, I have also never before lived with one. The fights my sister and I got into always involved who got the best spot on the couch, not who could make the other one scream the loudest.

My husband, who has both been a pubescent boy and, having two brothers, has also grown up with pubescent boys, is “luckier” in this regard. His reaction to most things Clyde is to sigh and say, “The only people who can stand twelve-year-old boys are other twelve-year-old boys,” right before suggesting to Clyde that he go hang out with some of his friends.

Of course, he then follows this up by telling me about when he was a twelve-year-old boy hanging out with his friends, and then acts surprised when his stories of bloodshed, destruction, and visiting the emergency room multiple times in one day don’t exactly have a calming effect on me.

In consolation, I suppose, there is always the fact that living with all of this boy energy makes me understand past historical expeditions so much better now. I used to think about the people who decided to ski solo to the South Pole, or be the first to climb a treacherous mountain peak, and think, why? But now, watching Clyde careen off every available surface in the house like a human pinball, I can understand at least the urge the other people around these famous explorers might have had to just get them out of the house, by any means necessary.

It was probably that kind of thinking that made hunting down and killing a wooly mammoth seem like a better idea than simply going out into the forest to collect nuts and berries. At least as far as the moms were concerned. I can just imagine that conversation. “What? You’re going hunting again? For a month? Take the boys. Yes, all of them. No, really: it’ll be good for them. I don’t know: tell them it’s an initiation or something.”

I don’t suppose anyone out there knows where I can find a wooly mammoth these days?

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