Teach the Test

September 15, 2010

Recently on a forum that I visit nearly every day that is focused on pandemic flu and general preparedness,

http://www.singtomeohmuse.com/viewforum.php?f=1&sid=c1080ae96159ed3ebb8676cd65f19a80

there was a short discussion on the decline of the educational system in the U.S. It certainly is obvious, that compared to other developed countries, we have lost our competitive edge in education. 

I do not have all of the answers for what is wrong with our educational system, I think the problem is multi-faceted. But I do want to share the viewpoint that I received from a teacher in one of my graduate classes. His main theme was – Teach the Test. I should point out that he is the only educator in all of my years of schooling, K-12, secondary, post-secondary, and graduate, that ever presented this style of teaching.

“OK class, remember that the test is on Friday. It will cover material from chapters 7-12 and also material that we have covered in class. There will be a mix of True/False, matching, short answer, and also an essay question.”

Sound familiar? This is the generally accepted method of teaching in our schools today. Students are expected to read the material outside of class and attend class and take notes on additional information the teacher disseminates. I find absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, when it comes time for the test, the student is left guessing as to what exactly will be on the test. Will it be mostly from the text? Maybe he/she will go primarily with lecture material to see how many of us were actually paying attention and taking good notes. Are my notes good enough? Should I try to borrow somebody else’s notes?

My instructor pointed out that this is foolishness in the extreme, a completely counter-intuitive manner of assessing a student’s grasp of the material. It is bass-ackwards as my granddad was fond of saying. Think about it, is this how the military teaches their recruits? Is this how you learn in a vocational/technical environment. Not at all. In the military the recruit is given what he is going to be tested on and he has complete knowledge of the test beforehand. Therefore, his or her focus is on actually learning the material frontwards and backwards until the test can be successfully mastered. My teacher proposed that in every successful educational environment, the student has prior knowledge of the test before they take it.

Wait a minute, you exclaim. That won’t work. If we give the student the test beforehand, then they will know all of the answers and everybody will get an “A”. That would be true if the test was testing simple recitation of subject matter. However, if the test is constructed properly, so that it caused the pupil to apply the subject matter, to actually think instead of memorizing, then having the test beforehand does not guarantee a perfect score. It will however, guarantee that those students who have mastered the test have also mastered the subject material.

Initially, I was skeptical as my teacher put forth this totally alien educational concept to the class. However, we all soon found out that having the test beforehand didn’t make for an easy “A”. The questions on the test could not be answered by simply reading the material and finding the facts to recite. The questions were complex and required gathering material from the texts and then applying it in a framework supplied by the instructor. This was one of the most difficult courses I had in my graduate course of study. I also knew the material we covered in that class intimately when I was finished. Granted, a lot of that faded over time, but I have remembered the one thing that the instructor told us never to forget, and that is if you want to sucessfully impart knowledge to a student, you have to teach the test.

Now you may be asking, if this method is superior to what we all have experienced in school, why aren’t we doing that? The main reason is that constructing a test that is given to the students prior to their testing requires significantly more effort than the current material used in our schools. The teacher must invest much more time and effort in the course, and they can’t used the pre-made crap supplied with the text book. My instructor did mention that his “radical” ideas on education were not favorably accepted, even in higher education, and K-12 and secondary instructors and administrators hated him outright.

Teach the test. Makes sense doesn’t it? If we really want to fix our educational system, we could start with that.

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This growing season God has blessed us with a bountiful harvest. We have had very few insect and animal problems and the weather has been very favorable. As a result, we have more stored from our garden, and more yet to process than we have had in the past few years. However, in the face of this bounty, I have made some calculations that are chilling if the need to subsist on what we alone can grow ever occurs.

Let’s just use our green bean harvest for an example. I initially planned for 4 fifty foot rows of Tenderette (bush type) green beans. So that they all wouldn’t be maturing at the same time, I planted two rows and waited a week before planting the next two rows. When the first two rows came up a little spotty, I panicked and planted another 50 ft row. So, we had a total of 250 linear feet of green beans. That’s a lot, as you well know, if you have ever squatted for hours picking beans.

The bean harvest was extraordinary, the plants were loaded with long succulent beans with very few bad spots. The plants kept bearing well and I picked most of the rows 4 times. This weekend I pulled up the plants, stripped the last of the good beans from them and tossed the plants in the compost pile. I plan to pressure can the last of those beans this evening. I don’t have an exact accounting, but my estimate is that we will have 150 quart jars of green beans put away in the pantry when all is said and done. It took a herculean effort to pick, snap, and process all of those beans. My wife and I snapped beans for hours many evenings of the past month. Our shoulders, wrists and hands ached from the repetitive movements. My knees and legs are still sore from the hours of squatting, kneeling, and any other body position I could assume to get at the beans on the plants.

One Hundred and Fifty quarts of beans. Sounds like a lot doesn’t it? It looks like a lot crammed in the cupboards in our basement pantry room. But in reality, those 150 quarts will allow our family to have 3 servings of green beans each week for the next year. That’ not a lot of bulk or calories in the grand scheme of things. Of course we have other vegetables from the garden as well. Tomatoes, corn, squash, and potatoes all did well, but even with the addition of these vegetables, what we would end up with stored would amount to a starvation diet for our family.

This is from a 5,000 sq. ft. garden. Sure, we could have a bigger garden space, but right now we are at the limit of what we can take care of with our present commitments to work and school. In a societal collapse scenario where we would no longer be going to work or school, when we would most definitely need a larger garden, I doubt I would long be able to purchase fuel for the mechanized equipment that helps us till and maintain such a large garden. If you have ever tried to turn a garden over with a shovel, you soon realize what a great invention the roto-tiller actually is.

I can well imagine that somebody is about to point out this article they read where a family is producing all of the food they need, and more, on a 1 acre plot in the middle of suburbia somewhere. I have read those articles too, and believe me, that is not possible in many instances. I spent a period of time in my life where I was an avid Mother Earth News reader, and for a while I endeavored to have most of the food on my table coming from my own efforts. I raised rabbits, turkeys, chickens, pigs, you name it and I probably tried it. I had the biggest garden I could manage to take care of. Still, if I would have been forced to live on what I produced, I would have slowly starved. One bad growing season and I would have starved quickly.

So, when you hear somebody talk about how they will till up their backyard and grow all the food they need when TSHTF, be advised they don’t know what in the hell they are talking about. If you want to keep a group of people alive, that is what you need, a sizeable group and sufficient land to raise several VERY big gardens. My unofficial estimate is you need about 25 acres with a good bit of that space devoted to fruit trees, nut trees, berry bushes, and anything thing else edible that will grow in your area.

I’m not writing this to discourage people who want to grow some of their own food, I think that is a wise choice, and more people should try to do it. I’m making the point that it is the exception rather than the rule that a family can grow enough food in a small plot to meet their nutritional needs. You need ccommunity-sized gardens and lots of labor available. There is a reason that farm families had lots of children. My grandfather had seven brothers and seven sisters, and he used to tell me how hard they all had to work just to get by.

Happy Motoring

July 29, 2010

In the fall of 1970, against my father’s advice, I spent the entire contents of my savings account, ($1,300),  on a 1968 Mustang 2+2 fastback.  I was a sophomore in college, and after a nearly disastrous, (academically), first year living in a dormitory, I moved back home and became a commuter student.  My dad was supportive of my proposal that I buy my own car, but he was thinking along the lines of a Volkswagen.

My Mustang was originally sold in the Midwest, so it wasn’t geared for the hills of Appalachia.  This necessitated some frequent “stirring” of the 4 speed gearbox, which I found to be  a pleasure rather than a chore.  My 289 V8 “muscle car” was a dog off the line, but once it got up into the sweet spot of the RPM curve, it would take off like a hound dog after a rabbit when you mashed the throttle.  The car would do 85 in 3rd gear at redline, and I saw the wrong side of 100 mph many times in top gear.  Bear in mind that the speed limit on the interstate highways was 75 at that time.  I would cruise along at the speed limit, or a little above, in 4th gear.  When I eventually got stuck behind someone going slower, it was great fun to drop into 3rd gear, stomp the throttle and wind up to redline before slamming into 4th.  If I remember correctly we termed this totally unnecessary act “blowing their doors off”.

I wrecked the car on the way to an 8:00 a.m. final in December two years later, spent too much money fixing it, and eventually traded it in on a new 1974 Ford Pinto.  There probably is some symbolism in all of that, but it escapes me at the moment.  The experience of owning that car was a mixed bag of emotions during a turbulent time in my life.  I am actually fortunate that I did buy the car then as it saved me countless thousands of dollars later in life.  It seems that Boomers having mid-life crises invariably seek out Mustangs as a way to re-capture some of the lost vigor of youth.  I could say that I had already been there and done that.  I had sex in the back seat of a Mustang when I was young enough not be uncomfortable doing it.

The purpose of this blog entry in not just a self-serving trip down memory lane, but also a description of an age that is ending, the age of cheap energy.  No future generation will ever waste locomotive energy in such a profligate manner.  In fact, the cost of moving ourselves from point A to point B in some type of vehicle will radically change every aspect of our lives.  We have built our country on an unsustainable framework, and when it soon collapses, much of what we take for granted will disappear.

I could write for days about Peak Oil and never begin to approach the excellent compilation of facts and projections that can be found at the following website:

http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net/Index.html

I strongly urge you to read the information provided on this website.  Follow the links and read them as well.  If, when you are finished, you think Peak Oil is a scam, then go about your life as you see fit.  There is, however, a good chance that the evidence provided by Matt Savinar will change how you look at every aspect of your life and the world around you.  It will be as if you took the “red pill” in the Matrix.  There won’t be any going back once your eyes are open.

Will you liquidate all of your assets and purchase a survival retreat in Idaho?  Probably not, but you will definitely start thinking about the very probable scenarios coming soon and begin to make preparations to better weather the troubled times ahead.  As I plod along in the everyday world, I look at current behavior now through “Peak Oil” glasses.  Some activities seem ludicrous in the extreme, like spending billions of dollars on new highway construction. 

Many times when I observe something commonplace in today’s world I will say to myself , “That’s not going to be around for much longer”.  As my friend George likes to say, “That music is over”.  For instance, recently I drove 45 minutes each way, (distance in Appalachia is measured in time , not miles), to help my mother-in-law fix a hinge on her front gate.  It took less than 10 minutes to get the hinge back on, and I was back in the car for the ride home.  I couldn’t help but think that if gasoline was back up to $5 a gallon, that repair job would have to wait until it could be combined with another trip.  At $10 a gallon, she would have been finding someone much closer to help her.

While there are so many aspects of Peak Oil that are alarming, what keeps me awake in the middle of the night is what I call the Three Possibilities.  It is a certainty that civilization as we know it is hurtling full speed at a cliff with an extremely steep drop-off.  There are 3 possible scenarios, as I see it,  for how we “manage” the drop-off.

1.  We all just muddle through without any clear direction, ending in wide scale economic and political chaos. 

I rate this as highly unlikely, the Elite that manage us will implement a series of plans to do their best to benefit from the emergency, at the expense of the general population.  They have their bunkers well-stocked and their security teams in place.

2. Major world players recognize the gravity of the situation and come together in a unified fashion to manage the downslide in critical resources.

I find this even more unlikely than number 1.  If you buy into this possibility, no doubt you enjoy sitting around campfires singing “Kumbaya” and pretending you all love each other.

3. Major world players will ride the resource depletion horse into the ground, and then at the critical juncture, make a grab for remaining oil-producing territories no matter who owns them or what it costs. 

I find this the most likely possibility.  Imagine a hotly contested game of marbles on a school playground when the end-of-recess bell rings.  The biggest kids will grab for the most marbles.  Not only will valuable resources be squandered in the conflicts that arise, but the loss of life through war and supply disruption will be catastrophic.  This is the “Mad Max” scenario, and its the one I end up stuck in at 4:00 a.m.  Even if you do buy that survival retreat in Idaho, you will have to be extremely lucky to make it through this outcome.

After reading Matt’s website, if you are interested in other Peak Oil literature, here are some additional selections:

http://www.amazon.com/Partys-Over-Fate-Industrial-Societies/dp/0865714827/ref=cm_lmf_tit_1

http://www.amazon.com/Twilight-Desert-Coming-Saudi-Economy/dp/047173876X/ref=cm_lmf_tit_2

http://www.amazon.com/Long-Emergency-Converging-Catastrophes-Twenty-First/dp/0871138883/ref=cm_lmf_tit_3

Rocks in my Garden

June 25, 2010

I haven’t posted in quite some time because I have been busy moving my family from the residence we had lived in for over 20 years to the house I grew up in.  Although the move was a short distance, we now have much more privacy and peace of mind.  By my calculations I should finish getting everything moved and put away about the time I will be eligible to start collecting Social Security payments.  However, I believe that if that program still exists by then, the medium of exchange I will be paid in will be next to worthless.

One of the consequences of the move is that I now have a new, larger garden space.  Last fall, I traded an antique farm implement to a friend for him to plow my new garden space.  Later he called me and said that he could barely get the plow to work because the spot I picked was full of rocks.  He asked if there was ever a building or a barn on that spot as the rocks were large and laid almost on top of each other.  There had never been a building there, that is just the nature of the property.  I knew the spot would be rocky, but I had no idea how many rocks would be there.

Last fall I hauled 3 pickup truckloads of rock from the 50′ by 100′ space.  These were rear-of-the-truck-squatted-down, tires-half-flat truckloads that exhausted me both filling the truck and emptying it also.  Some of the rocks in the garden were too heavy to lift into the truck bed and I maneuvered them into a pile beside the garden with my granddaughter’s help, which turned out to be a good opportunity for me to explain the principle of a lever and fulcrum to her.

This spring I didn’t have the time to load and unload the truck, so I collected the rocks in a wheelbarrow and continued dumping them on the pile by the garden.  Every time I run the tiller in the garden, I can collect several more wheelbarrow loads of rocks.  The rock pile beside the garden is now huge, and it will never go away without the help of mechanized equipment.  Several time as I have been cultivating the crops struggling to grow in the garden, I have hit upon the tip of a rock with the hoe.  I will try to lift out the rock with my hands only to find that it is much larger than it appears.  I then spend quite some time with a pry bar and a shovel, freeing the rock from the ground.  One such rock was so large that it took two hours of digging to fully unearth it.  It was so heavy that I could barely budge it, and I finally had to wrap a chain around it and drag it out of the garden with my truck.

My previous garden spot had been a garden for many, many years.  My grandfather had a garden there, and probably somebody else had one there before him.  The soil was well conditioned and easy to till, and what rocks were there were small.   I did take it upon myself one garden season to rid the garden of rocks.  I put plastic buckets at strategic spots around the garden and as I tilled between the rows, and cultivated the plants, I would pick up the small rocks I found and toss them in the nearest bucket.  Of course I never got rid of all the rocks.  Anybody who lives in the Appalachian area will understand that.  “New” rocks just seem to grow up out of the ground.

I did however preach what I felt at the time was a clever sermon about this experience.  Grasping the pulpit firmly, I expounded to those few listening that the rocks in my garden represented the sins in my life.  No matter how hard I worked, I would never be able to rid myself completely of sin, but with determined effort, I could get the biggest offenses out of my life and this was what God wanted me to do.

In retrospect, I feel ashamed of that message, and thankfully few gave it much attention.  Not the least of my misconceptions at that point was that the condition of the garden space was entirely my doing.  I was in fact, standing on the shoulders of other’s hard work and efforts, but claiming it as my own.  I felt proud of the condition of the garden space and accepted all of the compliments eagerly.  I have often done the same in my spiritual life, claiming righteousness by association because of the church I attend, or the people I am related to and associate with.

My new garden space has shown me my true spiritual condition.  I am impossibly flawed and broken.  So full of sin that no amount of work in my lifetime can make me presentable.  Not only do I have multitudes of flaws easily observable on my surface, but I have huge, deeply rooted sins that I have spent years covering up so that only the tip of them still shows forth to other people.  God, of course, sees them all.  No amount of works will fix my spiritual garden.  A lifetime of diligent casting away of sins will still leave me woefully rocky and unfruitful.

I am at the bottom spiritually.  I have no solutions of my own.  All of the old platitudes no longer apply or hold any truth.  Spiritual advisers who I have great faith in tell me that this is not a bad thing.  I have felt for the past few years that I have been losing my faith and my walk with God.  I think that what I have been losing is an un-workable system of beliefs present in many denominations, but especially prevalent in the Pentecostal movement. 

I have been receiving instruction in the Grace of God for the past few years, and I thought that I understood it.  I may have conceptualized it mentally, but I didn’t feel it in the depth of my heart.  I hope that I am beginning to fully grasp it now.  The folly of my spiritual past mocks me, I pretended to understand complex sections of the Bible, while not understanding how it is that one can be saved.

It is customary in the Pentecostal church for a minister visiting another church to be invited to present a sermon or message.  When I was a card-carrying minister, I often worried about being put on the spot and therefore had a few pat sermons, with appropriate scriptures, ready to go.  How ironic it is that now that I have discovered I was a pretender to that role, I also know the message to preach.  There is, after all, only one message.

A Glimpse of the Future

March 11, 2010

I was slapped in the face by the future yesterday when my wife and I took a side trip to an aging mall in a nearby city. I can easily remember when this mall was the place to go and it was packed with crowds of people every weekend. Now there are only a few retail stores open in the whole complex. The store my wife wanted to visit had more employees in attendance than customers.

While my wife shopped, I walked the length of the mall. At least half of the lights in the open areas of the mall were turned off to cut operating costs. Rather than retail operations, the locations in the mall that were open were Armed Forces recruiting offices and federal and county governmental offices.

What nearly stopped me in my tracks and has since filled me with cold dread, were the middle-of-the-mall operations. Rather than seeing the usual Battery Stop, Sunglass Hut, and Things Remembered operations, there were folding tables covered with worn tablecloths and bed sheets. The tables held an assortment of what could only be described as rummage sale and cheap flea market merchandise. Behind these rectangles of mostly worn out and useless merchandise I invariably saw a middle-aged or elderly couple. These were not churches or local non-profit organizations trying to raise funds, these were unemployed couples trying to raise a few dollars to keep the utility bills paid.

One couple in particular stood out. Their table held the poorest selection of goods for sale, including such items as well used fishing tackle, phonograph albums that no collector would ever want, and a selection of old, rusted license plates. The man looked up at me as I passed by and gave a slight nod. The weary lines of his face conveyed in an instant not only the decades of honest physical labor he had put in, but also the crushing weight and despair of the poverty he and his wife are now experiencing.

What has haunted me since seeing him is that my wife and I could very easily find ourselves in that same situation at some point in the future. Stashed away in various parts of our house are items very similar to the ones that couple were hoping to sell. The progression of events that could reduce our current financial situation to that level are not unimaginable, and in fact are becoming more evident everyday.

The Neutering Process

February 5, 2010

The following thoughts have been percolating for quite some time, and a recent “training” seminar has brought them to a point where I feel motivated to express them.  It is my opinion that those entities who have the job of protecting us, (i.e. police, first responders, etc.), very often make the general populace feel as if they are completely incapable of generating any worthwhile response in an emergency situation.  Let me be clear that I am not criticizing the job these people perform, but rather how they utilize, or rather, don’t utilize those of us involved in the emergency.

At a local emergency planning committee meeting (LEPC), I was shocked by the attitude that several of the officials had towards people who naturally responded to an emergency by offering assistance.  The general consensus was that they were more of a problem than a solution, and I received the impression that these officials thought that they should actually be confined to their homes to keep them from “being in the way”.  Even trained CERT volunteers were seen as little value, barely able to direct traffic or to run errands.

There were several troubling thoughts that I brought home from that meeting, but this one has persisted.  I felt great indignation as being seen as worthless by those in my county who were entrusted with developing emergency response plans and implementing them when trouble arose.  If those of us in the community are worthless, then they are at least partly responsible for making us so.  Rather than involve the community in their plans and training, they desire only the communities monetary support.  I sensed an attitude of superiority from them as they alone were privy to the “secret plans” and had the authority to implement them as they saw fit.

The precipitating event that forced my thought to be recorded here was a training session by our campus security police as to the appropriate response to an armed person in the building.  As you can imagine, the main message hammered out in the meeting was that we were not to try to respond to the threat in any way, but rather to immediately call the security police and allow them to handle the situation.  While their response time on my campus is not terribly slow, I know that if the armed person seeks to harm others, they will be too late.  At the risk of incriminating myself I will not disclose my planned and practiced response to an armed assailant, but you can be assured that the first thing I’m going to reach for is not the phone.  I am fully aware of the legal and moral consequences of my planned response and I have made the decision that if an armed assailant threatens anybody in my office, I will not be hiding under the desk punching buttons on my phone.

I grew up on a farm and we raised beef cattle.  As part of my 4-H club participation, I raised and sold steers for many years.  I know first hand the process and effects of neutering, and I refuse to submit to it.

H1N1 – the first skirmish

January 13, 2010

I have been absent from my blog for some time for a variety of reasons, but perhaps the factor that has prevented me from posting the most has been H1N1 sweeping through my family.  As soon as we recovered, (a lengthy and difficult process), I was ready to post about the experience, but as I heard more and more anecdotal data from friends on the flu boards and in real life, my perception of the ongoing flu pandemic changed.  As a result, I was paralyzed in posting, waiting for a definite conclusion.  I now realize that this virus, and possibly others, will be with us for years, and manifest themseles in a variety of ways in different populations, so any attempt to catagorize H1N1 now is premature to say the least.  What I will do is relate my perception of how the first wave of the virus acted in my area, the value of which is such that adding $5 to it will get you your favorite beverage at Starbucks.

First let me briefly say that in my family, and in some of the people I talked to in virtual and real life, H1 N1 was a real bitch.  For us it didn’t come on with that “hit by a truck” feeling I associate with the flu.  My theory on this is that sensation comes from your body’s overwhelming response to an influenza infection.  Since Pandemic A/H1N1 was a novel virus, our immune systems didn’t mount such a huge response, and therefore, at least initially, we didn’t experience that feeling, at least not right at first.  We all did experience overwhelming fatigue that lasted for weeks, and a dangerous mental “fog” that took a long time to dissipate.

My theory is that this round of H1N1 was mostly “silent” in that it didn’t present with a lot of symptoms.  What it did do was to draw down the host’s immune system so much that ANY avalable bacterial or viral bug could get a good foothold.  In my family we all presented with different symptoms.  My granddaughter had a terrible sinus infection.  My wife had deep lung congestion and a lot of coughing.  I had a bronchial infection from hell that lasted over a month and required a treatment of 3 courses of antibiotics.  Huge numbers of people were being diagnosed wth strep, pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections, etc., practically everything but flu.  Only one doctor had it right in my opinion, and that was the doctor that I took my granddaughter to when she first became ill.  He checked her syptoms, asked her where she went to school, and asked if anybody else in the family was feeling ill.  When I replied in the affirmative, he said:

“She has the flu,.  You and your wife most likely have the flu.  Everybody in the waiting room has the flu.  Everybody I have seen in the past 3 days has the flu.  I would really like to open up the door to an exam room and find somebody who doesn’t have the flu.”

That wave swept through the community pretty quickly, and then dropped off, with only a few laggard infections here and there.  There were a few reported deaths in the area, but little panic.  No businesses had to close to my knowledge as infections were more prevalent in children than adults.  Most people now believe that the pandemic is all over, and getting them interested in preparation for Wave 2 is nigh impossible.  I know differently however, and after living through Wave 1, I have no interest in a return engagement.  There was one common characteristic that I did notice from this variety of H1N1, and that was dark circles around the eyes and a rapid heartbeat when the patient was feeling the worst from the infection.  I saw it displayed both by my wife and my granddaughter and it scared the bejesus out of me.