27% of registered voters in Spearfish and Spearfish Valley showed up at the polls yesterday to reject the city's proposed annexation of some of the nicest not-quite urban, not-quite rural agricultural land in South Dakota. On a 54.6%-to-45.4% split, referendum voters chose to keep the split between the city proper and that island of anti-municipal anarchy between campus and I-90.
Mayor Dana Boke sighs plaintively over this split:
“As we move into the future still a divided city, it becomes more and more imperative that leadership groups focus on communication, collaboration, and ensuring that the decisions made are focused primarily on the benefit of the people we serve,” she said. “While the division continues, we must find a way to work together — the people of the city and the people of the valley — the future of Spearfish depends on it” [Heather Murschel, "Public Votes No on Annexation," Black Hills Pioneer, 2013.12.10].
But Mayor Boke isn't exactly speaking a soothing balm to bring those her disagree with her back to the bosom of brotherly community-building:
“I believe in our democratic process, and I accept the decision of our voters,” Spearfish Mayor Dana Boke said. “While the Council determined that all Spearfish residents should share equally in the necessary costs of operating our community, it is clear from this election that the majority of the residents of the City do not feel the same way” [Murschel, 2013.12.10].
Translation: I believe in sharing things equally, but you jerks don't.
Try that management style out for size in your office, see how that works with your team.
We have a federal responsibility to take care of those who can't take care of themselves. We do not have a federal responsibility to take care of the whole bloody nation [Annette Bosworth, interview with Todd Epp, Northern Plains News, 2013.10.17].
Doctors usually recognize a responsibility to take care of everybody.
We ordained and established that Constitution after throwing tea off a boat and fighting a Revolution to free ourselves from having to bow to the British. Talking like the British makes any American but especially a Senate candidate sound silly. It also leaves the audience wondering what word you really wanted to say.
The clearest way in which Annette Bosworth appears to be following the "Kristi Noem script" is in her ongoing inarticulacy. Listen to the clips Roll Call shares with us. Words tumble and clang to the ground like random junk falling out of the back of the station wagon after a hyperactive trip to the flea market:
...the way you win is show that we have some definitions in medicine that match politics, and the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over and over again and expect something different to unfold...
...Matt Hoskins was somebody who interviewed me early in this story...
...we've got several strong Republicans running for the race, and they're quite worried about a newbie coming on scene, but in that retort I would say I get why they would be nervous...
...upsets come from outsiders with expert skills that are brave enough to run...
...my example would be a great representation for South Dakota.
Bosworth makes soundbites like cheese balls. Let's get our fingers all orange:
Bosworth refers to her own campaign as a story. Really, Annette? A story? A literary fiction?
"coming on scene... in that retort"—now words are just clanging together.
Upsets by definition come from people you don't expect to win, people with disadvantages in money, power, what-have-you. But here we hear Bosworth swimming in her story and campaigning by metaphor. She's not mapping real campaign strategy; she's just hanging labels on herself. Lots of failed candidates have expert skills, but those skills aren't necessarily the skills necessary to win elections and legislate justly. And a majority of candidates who are brave enough to run lose.
How does an "example" become a "representation"? What does that last sentence even mean?
Bonus: in print, "outsider" Bosworth gets Roll Call to call her an "acolyte" of Bill Janklow. Annette, in case you haven't figured this out, you can tell stories about being Bill Janklow's chosen girl. You can tell stories about being an outsider. But you can't tell both stories and be taken seriously. Pick one.
Bosworth continues to entertain, if maddeningly. She demonstrates that she is listening to the voices in her head (who always sound grand) rather than the sound of the words actually coming out of her mouth.
Words. Just words. Poverty is not something which can be defined by, by numbers. Rather, poverty is shown in the human spirit crushed by the juggernaut of capitalism and the bloody bullion of the moneylenders [Michael Woodring, "Poverty of Meaning," Constant Conservative, 2013.10.07].
At least we agree on the deleterious effects of capitalism and moneylenders (Pastor Hickey! Don't let the usurers trick you!).
As for the word poverty... I'm having trouble seeing Worstall's or Woodring's point, unless it is simply to toss some swill to the hogs. Of course we define poverty as a number, just like tax brackets and other categories essential to carrying out government policy. Of course we calculate poverty prior to receipt of government assistance: it would make no sense to say, "Gee, if we include the value of food stamps and Medicaid for which you qualify based on your earned income, your total income would be higher than the poverty line... so we're not going to give you food stamps and Medicaid."
And of course we are all richer as a nation if we can use our vast wealth to ensure that no one ends up living in poverty. If our community efforts render the phrase "living in poverty" inaccurate and obsolete, then we should celebrate. We should take pride in keeping our neighbors from being crushed in the wheels of capitalism. And we should thank Democrats and elect more of them, since Republicans evidently think it's more important to keep sculptures and parks open than to feed the poor.
Contrary to Worstall's assertion, none of this means we should stop saying that people are living in poverty. We can understand the term to mean that we are helping feed and clothe millions of people whose employers don't pay them enough to feed their kids breakfast. We can use that term to remind employers that they are hoarding wealth that belongs to the workers whom they exploit, and that we as a community have cause to ask them pay society back, through taxes and higher wages.
Worstall and Woodring's word game is trivial compared to the reality of poverty in America. Poverty is real. Capitalism leaves millions of its workers in poverty. Instead of denying or, worse, punishing poverty, Americans should continue to give money 'n' stuff, through good government policy, to alleviate poverty.
My potential allies at South Dakotans Against Common Core post this video by Chicago North Shore elementary school teacher Ellie Rubenstein. Amend that: former elementary school teacher Ellie Rubenstein.
Mrs. Rubenstein posted her resignation to the Intertubes last week. She doesn't mention Common Core, but her indictment of her school administration shows the degradation of education and the art of teaching to which Common Core, with its focus on standardized testing, can lead our schools:
But over the past 15 years, I’ve experienced the depressing, gradual downfall and misdirection of education that has slowly eaten away at my love of teaching. The emphasis in education has shifted from fostering academic and personal growth, in both students and teachers, to demanding uniformity and conformity. Raising students’ test scores on standardized tests is now the only goal, and in order to achieve it, the creativity, flexibility, and spontaneity that create authentic learning environments have been eliminated.
Spearfish's kids are done, but we teachers will be back in the building for one more day of in-service to discuss the implications of Common Core. Spearfish's teaching culture is far from the disastrous state Rubenstein describes in North Shore. (Worth noting: Rubenstein's superintendent describes her assessment of her own school as "inaccurate, misleading and, in many cases, factually wrong.") But I may forward this video to my fellow staff members as my contribution to the discussion of what Common Core could do to our school if we are not very, very careful.
* * *
Now don't get me wrong: I love tests. I loved taking tests when I was a student (yes, I am every current student's worst nightmare). I love writing tests, trying to come up with questions and challenges that will accurately measure what my students have learned.
But my tests are the antithesis of the quick, easily scored bubble tests on which Common Core and the industrial assembly-line model of education depend. Take a look at my final exam for French students. Sure, they get a thick on-paper test on vocabulary, grammar and translation. But there is no multiple choice. I call it "infinite choice": students could write any number of responses in the blanks. Instead of trying to convert the test into some computer-scored assessment with one correct response for each item, I eyeball each blank, assigning partial credit for spelling, accent marks, synonyms, and creative circumlocutions that show the kids were paying attention in our specific classroom.
For example, one of the vocab words I asked was never. Answer: jamais. It would be pretty easy to plunk that word into a computer test, have students type in the answer, and give them one point if their entry matches the response text string and zero points if it doesn't. But one of my students who struggled with spelling wrote in the margin to that item "I've never been to Jamaica." We used that mnemonic in class multiple times. That student gave me extra information that shows that student paid attention and remembers useful information that a standard bubble-test vocab item would not capture. I gave that student a couple extra points to balance the misspelling that the computer would have counted flat wrong.
Over the last couple weeks I spent five hours composing my French finals (each year, the tests change somewhat, because each year we cover some different things in different orders) and fifteen hours evaluating over 20,000 individual final exam data points. And that was just the written final, which is only worth 40% of the final exam.
I spent another 21 hours holding individual appointments with students to conduct the French oral final, which constitutes 60% of their final exam grade. Each student comes for a fifteen-minute one-on-one interview with me, in which I ask a series of questions in random order. Students must offer responses in French. The students get the list of questions and a practice video a couple weeks before the test, but in French 2 and French 3, they must be prepared for logical but unlisted follow-up questions. Then each student must ask me five questions in French and show they understand my French response.
I can't standardize or computerize that oral final. Consider one glorious moment from one oral exam: a French 1 student asked me what actor I'd like to have play me. A humorous conversation broke out in which we discussed having David Bowie and John Leguizamo play the two of us and break into a duet version of "Heroes" in the French classroom.
The student started it. The student got it. The student laughed. All in French. At that point, I don't need anyone's French bubble test or standardized curriculum to tell me that French 1 student deserves an A.
If the corporate standardizers and privatizers really wanted to make education better, they would not sell us bubble tests. If they really wanted to know if I am teaching my students good French, they would hire a French speaker to come spend forty hours with my students. They'd have to hire thousands of such expert speakers and listeners for each of the foreign languages taught at thousands of American high schools. Each of those listening testers would have to spend an additional couple hours at each high school prior to the tests studying each teacher's materials and vocabulary lists, since each teacher chooses different nouns and verbs and conversational expressions and grammar points to practice.
(Oh, but wait: we already have that corps of expert foreign language evaluators. They are called your local foreign language teachers.)
And that's why you'll never hear about Common Core standards for foreign language. Common Core may barely get past English and math, into science and social studies, before it gets cast aside like No Child Left Behind after a decade or so for the next big education reform wave. Common Core will never get at whether students are really learning and whether teachers are really practicing their art well, because evaluating those questions is too complicated and too costly for anyone trying to make a living peddling multiple-choice tests.
Common Core will push more schools toward fact-heavy, concept-light testing and curricula. It will ignore the subjects that don't boil neatly down to flawed but mass-produceable, mass-sellable, mass-gradable tests. It will drive conscientious teachers like Ellie Rubenstein out of the business... or into teaching French, where Common Core can't claw at them as much as it does their colleagues in other subjects and grades.
Tonight's mayor and council candidates' forum here in Spearfish was mostly what you'd expect from a local political event: mostly gentle questions, mostly general answers, mostly nice things said about Spearfish and Spearfish people.
If you truly believe this, you need to look up something. It's called a "snollygoster," because I think this describes what type of government that we're going to have if you're the mayor of the city of Spearfish [Mayor Jerry Krambeck, candidates forum, Spearfish, SD, 2013.03.27].
I welcome my longer-memoried readers to submit their examples, but this is the first time I've heard anyone call anyone a snollygoster in South Dakota. What did Krambeck just call Boke?
A politician who will go to any lengths to win public office, regardless of party affiliation or platform.
One of the earliest references comes from the Columbus Dispatch in October 28, 1895 which defined the term as "a fellow who wants office, regardless of party, platform, or principles, and who… gets there by sheer force of monumental talknophical asumnancy" [Teagan Goddard's Political Dictionary].
The Guardian looks across the pond and finds the Colonies' State of the Union addresses getting "dumber":
Click to access The Guardian's cool interactive graphic, with details on reading level of each State of the Union Address
Those bubbles show the relative word counts of each State of the Union address (which before FDR was called the President's Annual Message to Congress). We see notably larger word counts for most of the 1800s and early 1900s, largely because Presidents from Jefferson through Taft submitted written reports instead of marching up Pennsylvania Avenue to give Congress what-for in person. Compare the big 20th-century outlier, Jimmy Carter's last State of the Union address, a written report of 33,287 words, the longest such Presidential message.
The Guardian writers derive their "dumber" accusation from the other key data represented in this graph, the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of each State of the Union address. The last two centuries show a distinct downward trend in grade level, from James Madison's 21.6 (which suggests even a post-doc would struggle to have grasped what this Founding Father was getting at) to Barack Obama's current average of 9.2 (which means all of my high school students should be able to follow along). Only George Bush the Elder scores lower, at 8.6. George W. Bush, whose intellect we often assail, beat his dad, Obama, Clinton, and LBJ with a 10.0.
This quantitative analysis of one set of specific and arguably useless Presidential messages does not suggest that either our Presidents or the electorate are getting dumber. The fact that Kristi Noem's entries in the Congressional Record have a higher Flesch-Kincaid grade level than Al Franken's proves that Flesch-Kincaid does not measure intellectual capacity. Flesch-Kincaid measures syllables per word and words per sentence. A two-century trend of shorter words and sentences may represent a more inclusive, democratic mindset, with Presidents increasingly aiming their words not just at Washington elites but at the general public.
Flesch-Kincaid grade level for this blog post: 9.53. That puts me between Obama's 9.2 and Bill Clinton's 9.8... still among the top five easiest-reading Presidents.
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