Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Moment With My Father

Watching my sons playing Little League baseball for the first time this spring, I've been yearning to be able to have just a moment with my father. I'd like to be able to sit across from him at a booth, drinking coffee or beer, so that I could tell him one thing.

"I get it now, Dad. And I forgive you."

My father, like all of us, carried around his fair share of guilt. He had two children whose childhoods he'd essentially missed, due to his choice to move three thousand miles away from where they lived with their mother. I often felt he did his best to make up for how absent he was for the two of them by being as present as he could be for Mike and me. And he always was.

Another helping of guilt was layered onto my father's plate when it came to his relationships with us. Once my brother and I began playing organized sports, Mike showed an ease and coordination that eluded most kids his age -- it most certainly eluded me. (I've since figured out that I'm a pretty good athlete; my younger brother is just on a higher plane than most of us, athletically speaking.)

Hanno's guilt came from -- surprise, surprise -- his mother. She complained to him, sometimes loudly enough for me to hear, that he was spending an inordinate amount of time with his youngest, shagging fly balls, playing tennis, etc.

I was always embarrassed whenever I became aware of the well-meaning attention of my aunts or grandmother. (My mom stayed fairly silent on this matter, I believe.) To me, it felt like pity.

Of course I'll do what I can to learn from the ways of my father -- good and bad; that's what we do, right? I'll cultivate strong relationships with both my boys.

But as I watch Jackson out there on the ball field, grabbing up ground balls and gunning it over to first, my heart does swell with Daddy-Pride, and I want to tell my dad not to worry about all that attention he paid to my brother. He was, like my son Jackson, a sight to see after all.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A New, Bigger, Scarier Monster

Some time back in the mid-1990's Susan Dreyer and I sat together and proctored one of the Regents Competency Tests (RCTs) we were administering that year. We did our best not to distract our students as we passed notes back and forth to each other.

We came up with a little parable about a girl with a lisp who goes up against a horrible monster known as the Rancid, Clammy Toothasaurus (RCT -- get it?). She reaches out to educator and author of one of my favorite books about teaching and learning, Horace's Compromise, Theodore "Ted" Sizer ("Theth," as she calls him) who does battle with the beast.

(Our principal, who was friendly with Sizer, sent the piece to him, and Sizer wrote a very kind response, which I'm hoping Susan may still have somewhere.)

I thought of the Toothasaurus for the first time in years yesterday. If the RCT was some kind of menacing beast, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills is a Gargantua that could swallow it in one gulp. Maybe it's the "Titanic Ass-whoopin' Killer of Souls?" Ted Sizer has been dead for a few years, and one wonders whether even he -- the man himself -- could have vanquished this one.

Of course, it's not so much about the exam itself. I never even saw the actual test, which is more to the point. Thanks to No Child Left Behind (or "No Child Left Untested," as Debbie Meier calls it), the mechanism of organized testing has become the bully that shoves the educators out of the driver's seat and takes over a few times a year.

On these days, we the adults scamper around in fear of the Auditors who may come into our school and find us "out of compliance." We do our best to maintain a sense of control on testing days. What it really adds up to, however, is that our vehicle has been commandeered by the state and we're in the passenger's seat, winking at our students who sit obediently in the back seat, strapped in tightly to their car seats, where they dutifully fill in ovals on their bubble sheets with their number-2 pencils, hoping, as we do, that everything will work out all right and that we will arrive at our destination (whatever that may be) safe and relatively unscathed.