Sunday, June 19, 2011

Waiting for Superman

10-miler in Baltimore, a great weekend in sunny MD with my sweet mang, and I'm back in DC with a few pounds too many of pita chips in my belly (somebody please break into my apartment and hold me up at gunpoint to steal this damn bag!), and watching a documentary about 2 years late.

Waiting for Superman- a candid look at the shortfalls of our public school system, told through the eyes of hard-up folks who want their kids to have a better life, but don't have the choice of plugging them into a private school.

Allow me to corroborate a few of Geoffrey Canada's most salient points...

Tenure was originally designed as a protection for academia at the university level.  The intention was to protect speech in an academic setting: not to allow the administration du jour to affect post-secondary research and curriculum with a political or personal agenda. To translate the idea of tenure into a primary and secondary education-level protection is completely erroneous.  Please tell me what constitutional speech is threatened in second grade, when we're learning adverbs?  Or when high schoolers are learning calculus (those of them who still reach that level these days)?  As a matter of fact, I'm pretty comfortable with those teachers being told what to say and being granted only the discretion of how to say it.  There will always be provocative issues in the public school system - evolution, banned books, political history - but these things are not protected through tenure, they're issues that are legislated or set by regulation! 
I've been party to discussions among new teachers, sharing just how nervous they are that they may not be "asked back" next year.  Guess what folks- that's a great thing!  When I worked at my old law firm, I was conscious of every work product I handed my boss, because I knew that if I handed him anything less, he could have someone smarter than me sitting in my chair tomorrow morning.  Cue in Ayn Rand's personal challenge to live up to your potential please.  It's not a back-breaking exercise, and that goes for whether you're arguing cases at the U.S. Supreme Court, or whether you're pushing a broom in the bathroom.  It's not about being a superstar, it's about taking some ownership and doing a decent job.

We need national standards for our 50 states.  And we need less bureaucracy, which would naturally accompany thoughtful national standards were they implemented correctly.  The problem is there are so few self-starters in the federal and even state governments because they can be, in my opinion, lazy-bum factories.  And heaven forbid we expect our Congress to produce meaningful legislation between reelections!

Now I'm not trying to criticize all teachers.  I think they get paid too little and they deserve tons more appreciation and recognition than they get now - good teachers, that is.  The system is flawed, and as in any other federal government setting, people who attempt to turn it upside down realize quickly their hands are tied with federal employment protections, unions, tenure, and a litany of other superfluous, destructive forms of job guarantees.  That's not how this country became a superpower, but it just may be how this country cripples itself in its own red tape.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Book Review: Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel

If you read Life of Pi and loved it like I did, then do yourself a favor and:
1.  Buy this book;
2.  Read nothing about it online- none of the critic reviews and especially none of the plot summaries;
3.  Get a box of tissues and keep an open mind; and
4.  Enjoy another Yann Martel animal allegory, as painful as this one may be.
And those are both my review and recommendation bundled into four tidy directions.  I don't want to hint at themes or touch upon turning points; I want you to experience them on your own.  I had a hint of what was to come and I found myself waiting for it the entire read, which is no way to wander through Martel's carefully crafted mix of reality and fantasy.
"It's so hard to talk about it. It hurt, it was painful -- that's all there is to say about it, really. But to feel it! We recoil from he flame of a single match, and here I was in the middle of a blaze. And still it wasn't over." ~ Yann Martel, Beatrice and Virgil

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Book Review: The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Sue Monk Kidd's 2002 best seller, "The Secret Life of Bees," is a tale of 14 year-old Lily Owens and her search for her late mother's past.  After fleeing from her abusive father aside Rosaleen, her family's maid, she serendipitously stumbles upon the home of May, June and August - three black sisters who manufacture honey in South Carolina.  Lots of strong female characters, lots of racial tension, and a little bit of southern Civil Rights Act-era American history.

This book was almost a mixture between The Help (which I swear I've reviewed but can't seem to find my write up right now)  and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  Thankfully more of the former, as we all know I can't say enough about how much I disliked Guernsey.  The Secret Life of Bees was sprinkled with slightly-too-silly moments that rang of the Guernsey characters' giggly traditions and ceremonies- very red hat society and devoid of meaning and creativity.  But aside from some silly hats and a few weird chain gang reenactments, Kidd's themes were sincere and her story was a quick, lighthearted summer trip to the land of honey and cotton. 

I'll leave you with Lily's first taste of love as a young girl:

"The whole time we worked, I marveled at how mixed up people got when it came to love.  I myself, for instance.  It seemed like I was now thinking of Zach forty minutes out of every hour, Zach, who was an impossibility.  That's what I told myself five hundred times:  impossibility.  I can tell you this much:  the word is a great big log thrown on the fires of love."*

*Now to be honest I'm not sure what "fires of love" are aflame at the ripe age of 14...