Kids Matter

re: Washington Local closing libraries, converting space to STEM rooms

As a longtime teacher, I can tell you libraries are the soul of a good school. Mediocre schools think they can slice and dice information and deliver it to follow the headline of the day. The headline about a critical need for STEM workers is already outdated.

I know that children grow up to be engineers and mathematicians, as well as historians, poets,  and other important occupations through deep exploration in a wide variety of areas. They do not learn these skills by turning on a pricey 3-D printer.

Looking at practicalities, I wonder if the Washington Local Schools Deciders have calibrated how far students live from public libraries and how they will get there in the winter.

In my retirement, I volunteer at our town library. I see which kids do  and do not manage to get there. The kids who need the library the most live too far away and don’t have necessary transportation.

The Washington Local Schools Deciders have made a tragic decision.

Susan Ohanian



First Graders, Unite!

When Hollywood makes a movie, functionaries watch out for the well-being of animals. Compared to kindergartners, apes live a life of luxury. According to the rules, if an ape works for than three days in a row, then a play area must be provided for the ape’s relaxation. As our leaders scream about “skills for the global economy,” they talk a lot more about the necessity of  standardized testing in the midst of a Pandemic rather than need for play areas.

Maybe the schoolchildren of America should unioninize: First graders, unite! You have nothing to lose but your worksheets and homework.

We acknowledge that adults need periodic breaks during their workday. We even acknowledge that apes in Hollywood need time and space to play. Requiring children to stay “on task” for a full day isn’t jjust cruel and unjust; it is also nuts.

Treating young children like robots–or Wall Street brokers-in-training–cannot come to a good end. When the message is hammered in to children from the moment they enter kindergarten, “You are never good enought, the results are tragic.

A mother in California showed up at a school board meeting to protest that her four-and-a-half-year-old had failed the prekindergarten screening. The child was labeled “immature,” with her thumb-sucking habit cited as evidence. “Of course she’s immature,” said Mom. “What is a four-and-a-half-year-old supposed to be?”

Good question.  A Standardista push to make kindergarten and even prekindergarten academic turns age-appropriate behavior into an illness or a deficiency, and we see five-year-olds put on drugs because they can’t sit still long enough to circle all the vowels on stacks of worksheets.

“Standards” reflect more political strategy than concern for children’s well-being. Officials justify the deformation by saying that getting workers ready for what jobs in the twenty-first century demand means tougher standards and testing for kindergartners.

Today’s kids enter kindergarten identified as deficient in skills that weren’t even introduced to kids that age a decade ago. It’s called preparing future workers to be competitive in the global economy. Keep the pressure on; keep people worried that they’re never good enough. And it starts in kindergarten.


Take This Test and Shove It

Question of the Day: Should a Miami Teenager Have to Deconstruct a Poetic Account of Tracking Moose in Alaska to Get a High School Diploma?

Parents of kids facing tests their children must pass in order to receive a high school diploma  should take a close look at the questions being asked–and then ask a few questions of their own. Don’t miss the author’s reaction to what Florida has done with his work. See below.

Reading test – grade 10 This story [sic] is a sample Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test reading exam for the 10th grade. After reading the story [sic], answer the six questions that follow.

By John Haines

To one who lives in the snow and watches it day by day, it is a book to be read. The pages turn as the wind blows; the characters shift and the images formed by their combinations change in meaning, but the language remains the same. It is a shadow language, spoken by things that have gone by and will come again. The same text has been written there for thousands of years, though I was not here, and will not be here in winters to come, to read it. These seemingly random ways, these paths, these beds, these footprints, these hard, round pellets in the snow: they all have meaning. Dark things may be written there, news of other lives, their sorties and excursions, their terrors and deaths.

I was walking home from Redmond Creek one morning late in January. On a divide between two watersheds, I came upon the scene of a battle between a moose and three wolves. The story was written plainly in the snow at my feet. The wolves had come in from the west, following an old trail from the Salcha River, and had found the moose feeding in an open stretch of the overgrown road I was walking.

The sign was fresh, it must have happened the night before.

The snow was torn up, with chunks of frozen moss and broken sticks scattered about; here and there, swatches of moose hair. A confusion of tracks in the trampled snow — the splayed, stabbing feet of the moose, the big, furred pads and spread toenails of the wolves.

I walked on, watching the snow. The moose was large and alone, almost certainly a bull. In one place he backed himself into a low, brush-hung bank to protect his rear. The wolves moved away from him — those moose feet are dangerous. The moose turned, ran on for fifty yards, and the fight began again. It became a running, broken flight that went on for nearly half a mile in the changing, rutted terrain, the red morning light coming across the hills from the sun low in the south. A pattern shifting and uncertain; the wolves relenting, running out into the brush in a wide circle, and closing again: another patch of moose hair in the trodden snow.

I felt that I knew those wolves. I had seen their tracks several times before during that winter, and once they had taken a marten from one of my traps.

I believed them to be a female and two nearly grown pups. If I was right, she may have been teaching them how to hunt, and all that turmoil in the snow may have been the serious play of things that must kill to live. But I saw no blood sign that morning, and the moose seemed to have gotten the better of the fight.

At the end of it he plunged away into thick alder brush. I saw his tracks, moving more slowly now, as he climbed through a low saddle, going north in the shallow, unbroken snow. The three wolves trotted east toward Banner Creek.

What might have been silence, an unwritten page, an absence, spoke to me as clearly as if I had been there to see it. I have imagined a man who might live as the coldest scholar on earth, who followed each clue in the snow, writing a book as he went. It would be the history of snow, the book of winter. A thousand-year text to be read by a people hunting these hills in a distant time. Who was here, and who has gone? What were their names? What did they kill and eat? Whom did they leave behind?

Adaption of “Snow” is from The Stars, The Snow, The Fire: Twenty-Five Years in the Alaska Wilderness by John Haines.

Questions. Base your answers on “Snow.”

  1. What does the author mean by this sentence from the essay?

These seemingly random ways, these paths, these beds, these footprints, these hard, round pellets in the snow: they all have meaning.

       a) Signs in the snow lead to different interpretations of the truth

       b) Signs in the snow lead to different directions in the wilderness

       c) Patterns in the snow can be connected to form a story of nature

       d) Patterns in the snow can be connected to lead the observer to        safety

Objective: Student selects and uses strategies to understand words and text, and to make and confirm inferences from what is read.

2. According to the author, which word best describes the story of snow?

      a) Frightening
      b) Random
      c) Timeless
      d) Violent

Student determines the main idea and identifies relevant details, methods of development, and their effectiveness in a variety of types of written material.

3. Which writing strategy does the author employ to express his views about snow?

     a) Use of complex plot
     b) Use of descriptive language
     c) Development of varied structure
     d) Development of believable characters

Objective:Student determines the main idea and identifies relevant details, method of development, and their effectiveness in a variety of types of written material.

4. After examining the moose’s tracks, the author concluded that the moose was

      a) Cold

     b) Confused 
     c) Large
     d) Weak

Objective: Student recognizes cause-and-effect relationships in literary texts.

5. How does the author create suspense in relating the story about the animals in the snow?

      a) By holding back information
      b) By constantly updating the plot
      c) Through detailed description
      d) Through frequent use of adjectives

Objective: Student analyzes the effectiveness of complex elements of plot, such as setting, major events, problems, conflicts, and resolutions.

Ohanian Comment: Pardon me, but does the Florida State Department of Education really decree that essays have “plots,” which include such “complex elements” as “setting, major events, problems, conflicts, and resolutions?” Is E. B. White rolling over in his grave?

6. What is the mood of the opening and closing paragraphs?

      a) Chaotic
     b) Curious
     c) Forlorn
     d) Thoughtful

Objective: Student analyzes the effectiveness of complex elements of plot, such as setting, major events, problems, conflicts, and resolutions.

Note: The above passage  is what is known as a ‘sample’ item; it does not mean that the actual item has ever been used on a test. It does mean that this is the type of loony item found on Florida tests. Florida test writers turn a respectable piece of prose into something bizarre. For starters, they can’t decide whether it’s a story or an essay, and things go downhill from there. This type of questioning goes against everything we know about why people read or what they hope to get out of what they read.

I sent the questions to the author of the passage (who, at the time, was a professor at the University of Alaska as well as Alaska’s poet laureate). Here is his response:

Dear Susan,

Thank you for the very weird pages from Florida education. I could hardly believe what I read, and then simply laughed. I gave copies to my students, and they laughed too! What is going on here? Education? I don’t think so.

My regards,

John Haines