March 1st, 2011


Happy, happy

It's Deanne's birthday, all day today. Here's a more recent picture than the old "courtin'" pic I posted earlier this morning. This is from the clergy Christmas party the Venturers catered last year. She's still beautiful. I tell her I married her for her smile.

Deanne gets her just desserts Deanne gets her just desserts
Aw, she's so sweet


Enough is enough

The ongoing fracas in Wisconsin, the brouhaha in Indianapolis, similar conflicts around the map are doing what prolonged controversies always do: pushing everyone to make ever more emphatic and extreme statements. Some of what the conservatives are saying right now, particularly about teachers, is not helpful and not wise.

Sure, school reform is way past due. I only got into my PhD program in edjumacation because the school reform movement of the '80s had pried apart the temple precincts just a hair. For a while, all kinds of new voices were raised and fresh ideas were mooted. By the time I graduated five years later, though, the Usual Suspects in the field had repositioned themselves as "reformers" and had pushed all the new voices and new ideas out. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Maybe this time we'll get something better accomplished. The public sees the rot and they see the cost at the same time. They're beginning to see that you can't cure the rot with more money. What they need to be shown is that there are ways and ways of saving money. If you save money without cleaning out the rot you have cut off your nose to spite your face.

Teachers' unions are part of the problem. As ol' Al Shanker used to say, when children paid union dues, he'd represent their interests. Insofar as the union is merely a vehicle for featherbedding, it deserves to be bashed; insofar as it unites with politicians to soak the Treasury or evade real evaluation, it deserves to have its wings clipped. But school administrators are part of the problem, too. And so are the politicians and bureaucrats. And so are the Teachers Colleges, which so jealously protect their mysteries from profanation by outsiders.

And even if you slay all those dragons or put them in cages, you've still got to have teachers to teach. Alienating teachers qua teachers is dumb. Even if all the teachers you see are currently yelling at you, not all of them have been completely zombified by the party line. And you're going to need them -- at least, the best of them -- when you finally manage to enact your reforms. So, sure, bash the unions, but don't forget the other culprits. And don't fall into the trap of merely stiffing your employees as a means of balancing the budget.

The all-volunteer military works because evaluation is stiff and compensation is competitive. One without the other wouldn't work. The military also gives lots of praise, not just criticism. Finally, the military knows what victory looks like. If you want our teachers to perform as well as our soldiers, you not only have to break the old system, you have to institute a new one where the ground troops trust their leaders and believe in the battle plan.

Let the lefties rant and howl. They'll talk the language of hate and conflict whether they win or lose. Conservatives need to look ahead and start talking like statesmen and fellow citizens. They need to be building the coalitions they want in the future as well as attacking the political ganglords of today.

Some inspiration for backpackers

It's happened more than once. The crew leader will look at me to see if there's anything I want to say before we take off for the day's hike. I'll say, "Lead on, O kinky turtle." Blank looks. Even kids who go to church these days fail to get the joke. ("Lead on, O kinky turtle" is a kid's mangling of the hymn title, "Lead on, O King Eternal.")

Remembering that today, I suddenly found myself singing snatches of a new song. When I got home, I worked out three verses. The tune is (undoubtedly) Lancashire.

Venturing Anthem

Lead on, O kinky turtle, another trek has come;
henceforth midst clouds of skeeters our tents will be our home.
The rain and hail fall on us, the bears prowl round by night;
we’ve never lost a camper, but then again, we might.

Lead on, O kinky turtle, the path is rough and steep;
the snoring of my tent-mate means that I get no sleep.
Our diet is granola and freeze-dried mac and cheese;
We sit and tend our blisters and shiver in the breeze.

Lead on, O kinky turtle, it gives us pause to think
how days in the backcountry will surely make us stink.
We swear that if we make it, we ne’er again shall roam,
but we’ll start planning next year as soon as we get home.