Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Great Moments in Parenting

Let me be clear: I HATE the TAKS test.

To be a teacher in Texas is to have to live with the TAKS test, a.k.a. the Sword of Damocles, hanging over your head, once a year. And, when one is a teacher in a poor school in Texas - which I was, for seven years - you are reminded of it, every day, all year long.

Because, of course, in Texas, we believe in the high-stakes testing. The good folks of this state have put their faith in the (*cough* Republican) leaders of our state educational system, and these esteemed ladies and gentleman have assured us that pegging our kiddos' school performance on these measures is OK.

Why? Surely, performance on these measures must provide a good prediction of success in college. What, no? Then, clearly they must be good measures of academic proficiency, then? Yes, OK, that is true, to some degree. However, they also measure several unintended variables: first, it measures one's ability to take multiple-choice tests, or to "game" the system (e.g. to weed out the two stupid answers, to look at the two possible answers, and then to figure out which one of those is the "trick."). The other, secondary skill that it measures is attention, or stamina. Some kiddos, no matter how much they want to do so, just don't sit, and sustain attention, in this dry, silent, LONG, testing session that is the typical format of TAKS.

Now, I KNOW all this. I also know a lot about testing, about criterion vs. standardized testing, about predictive value, and about what Republican assfaces the State Board of Education are. I would never, NEVER, emphasize TAKS as a reason to make - oh, any decisions whatsoever, PARTICULARLY not making it the sole criteria regarding retention in the third or fifth grade. It's stupid to do so, and that's all there is to it.

With background established, the OG took her very first reading TAKS this year, that extremely important third grade year. You know, the OG? The one that was reading chapter books when she was four? The one that topped their reading assessments when she was in the first grade? And, yes, the one that is also extremely hyperactive, and duly medicated as such?

Well, of course, she did pass the damn thing. She only missed four, which is just fine. But, here's the thing: If she'd missed three, she'd have made "commended performance." And...god damn it, out of 78 kids in her grade, she is one of only 13 kids that DID NOT get "commended performance."

So, do you think - given my extensive knowledge of this subject, and personal experience with extremely smart kiddos that were just too spazzy to sit and take this test with anything like full committment - that I would:

a) blow it off, because this is a silly, artificial construct, designed to do nothing more than make parents feel better than other parents, and I know that she's hyper and a ferociously good reader ANYWAY, or:

b) berate her for not trying harder, and make my already anxiety-ridden daughter feel worse about herself after all of her friends have pranced up to her, saying, "I got a 100!" "I got a 100 too!"

You would think I would have naturally gone to the first option, wouldn't you?

Sadly, no. No, I didn't.

The good news is that I didn't actually end up DOING it. I wisely called The Man and Christie, my former reading teacher friend, who both emphatically insisted that I step away from this ledge and swallow all of my bilious ravings before I drive my child (more) insane.

So, I let it go with a couple of questions about what went wrong, if we could do anything to improve her focus next time, that sort of thing. We had a little attitude adjustment session about her already fatalistic attitude towards math, our Next Big Test at the end of the month. And I let. it. go.

Next morning, I run into her teacher at school. First thing out of her mouth: "I can't BELIEVE that the OG didn't get commended performance!"


Monday, March 23, 2009

SXSW Recap

The Best:

  • The Decemberists and Gomez at the free show at Pangaea. Fantastic. Worth every bit of the two hours in line to get the pass, and the hour and a half in line to get in. Free ticket, free open bar, GREAT sound and a classy joint to boot, and some of the best music, bar none, that I've ever heard at a South By show. Thanks to Bookhart for being my date!
  • Over the Hills and Far Away - the doc on autism that I was raving about down an entry.
  • The Chris Gaffney tribute at Continental Club on Thursday night (with Dave Alvin, Ponty Bone, Cindy Cashdollar, Lisa Pankratz, etc.) I'd heard of most of these people, but had no idea how incredible this show would be. Super tight and rocking fabulous.
  • The Mighty Stef at Mojo's Mayhem at the Continental Club on Saturday morning. Cyuuute Irish lads with a taste for Americana. Good enough for me to buy a CD, which I NEVER do.
  • The Bloody Marys at Mojo's Mayhem at the Continental Club on Saturday morning. Mmmm. They make me feel positively healthy, I tell you.
  • Free sushi at Kenichi at the Shurman party. Again, with the mmmm. They make this one thing? That's like a sushi nacho? I think, tuna with a wasabi sauce on a fried wonton chip? Fraaaack. Great band, too. West Texas meets Son Volt.
  • The weather. Warm, sunny, awesome, sexy, Austin springtime weather. Men in their western shirts with the sleeves cut off, girls in sundresses and cowboy boots.
  • Having my mother in town for a week to watch the girls. Score!!!
  • Best Worst Movie at the Paramount. It's about the, supposed, worst movie ever made, Troll 2, and the Rocky Horror-like cult following it has developed. Just delightful.
  • Vast vats of cheap, or free, beer. Everywhere. For no damn good reason.
  • Pizza from Home Slice.
  • Hanging out with several awesome friends, including some I don't get to see often enough. Nice to hang with not only Bookhart, but also Milena.

The worst:
  • Attempting to go to the Dog and Duck for St. Patrick's Day. HORRIFIC crowds, endless lines, hot as shit, twenty minutes in line for a beer. Yeah, no. Won't do that again.
  • The absolute shit service we got at Sagra, the newish Italian restaurant around the corner from the Dog and Duck, wherein the lovely Bookhart and I were roundly ignored (!) to the point that both she and I - she being the most genteel person that I know, BTW - agreed that we actually had to get up and WALK OUT. (History: I NEVER do that.) My parting shot? "This? Is JUST NOT WORKING OUT." Hmph! I am so boss sometimes! However, happy ending in the way of the Clay Pit, spicy Tikka Masala, and cherry-pistachio naan, served with a cold beer by a flirty and attentive waiter who loved us. So, kiss my butt, Sagra.
  • Missing way too many movies. Didn't see Humpday, Winnebago Man, The Way We Get By, I Love You Man, Observe and Report, Trimpin, Objectified, or the actual Troll 2. I hear I screwed up totally by not seeing these.
  • The nearly all-day hangover I had on Friday.
  • Missing not only Mick, but also St. Murse, completely, during the whole GD week. Mick was ill; the Murse was a buzzing bee of activity.
  • Almost completely ignoring the mountain of work that I brought home to do. (Oh, wait, that was actually awesome, the incredible suckage of today not withstanding. Fuck, who works on vacation, anyway?)
  • Where my money was? Is empty now.
  • Haven't gotten on the scale yet.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hey, SXSW Guys!

Hey, hi there, you SXSW-types! Welcome to Austin!

Please spend a lot of money here; while the economy here isn't as bad as most other places, we could still use it. We have incredibly fine and cheap Mexican food, and most of us are happy to point out the local favorites. (I, myself, had to have a come-to-Jesus conversation with some young French psychedelic country musicians the other night, who were extolling the virtues of the fabulous Mexican dinner they had just had at...BABY ACAPULCO'S. "Friends from across the pond," says I, "please let me direct you to Juan in a Million. And Taqueria Arandas. Joe's Bakery, Cisco's, and even Nuevo Leon. And that's just for breakfast.")

However, there are some ground rules, which I, over the course of the past few days of gadding about the film festival, have seen broken. So, let's have a brief rundown, mmkay?

1. You there. Yeah, you, with the hip eyewear and the pegged black jeans? No, not you, the other guy. NO, behind him. Yes, YOU.

OK, you see that cigarette? The one that you were smoking right in front of me in line, and that I was gracious enough to not even shoot you a dirty look about? Which you then THREW ON THE GROUND, still lit?

We don't do that here. That is littering, Bryton or Braden or Aidan or whatever your name is. Did you not hear that you are not supposed to mess with Texas? And methinks it will not help you get lucky from hip little Austin girls that you are tweeting or twitting. (Twatting?) So pick up your damn butt and we will all have a much better time.

2. When one is in a crowded movie theater, and one decides to eat a Five Guys hamburger, it everyone around you smell nothing but onions for two hours. And it is incredibly distracting, even from a completely OUTSTANDING documentary about a local family's journey to, literally, outer Mongolia, in search of a cure for their autistic son. Run, don't walk, to see this, especially if autism has touched you in any way. Magnificent and goose-bump inducing.

But still, about the onions. Really, try to hold off until afterward.

3. You really should have a cheeseburger at Casino El Camino. I just had one, for the first time, even though that club's been around for like 10 years. Frig, it was fantastic. I recommend the blue cheese with buffalo sauce.

Great vibe, too. It is undeniably the kind of place I would have hung out at in college. Edgy but still friendly, decent beer on tap, and hand-cut french fries. Nice.

4. If one puts forth even a modicum of effort, one can drink for free every single day of SXSW, and can see some completely kickass music without dropping a dime. Just a tip. A visit over to Bob Noxious's site, or the Austinist, or Done Waiting, will probably get you started.

5. Go see some films while you're in town. If you come to Austin without a visit to an Alamo Drafthouse, you are missing a huge part of the experience. There is a reason that Entertainment Weekly named it the best movie theater in the country; trust me on this. And, when better than South By, when all the Drafthouses are full of some super-good docs that you may never get to see again?

Yeah, yeah, there are features, too. Honestly, they are rarely that good. I share Mick's philosophy that if a feature film is worth it, it will make it to wide release, but the docs almost never do. Seriously, some of the best docs ever were premiered here...like "Spellbound," "Crawford," and "Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns," just to name a few off the top of my head.

And, that brings me to:

6. Your texting, while you are sitting next to me, in movies, is nearly as distracting as you talking on your cell phone. STOP IT. Play with your iPhone when you get out. You are not that important, and nobody NEEDS to know exactly where you are for the next hour and a half.


Now, back off to downtown. My mother, happily, is caretaking for the children this week, effectively giving me license to throw down hard. (I got into the free Decemberists show tonight at Pangaea, one of the rare clubs in Austin that have a dress code and a velvet rope. I am intimidated. But, as there is also an open - FREE - bar, I feel relatively assured I can mitigate this anxiety forthwith.)

I will check in later with more rules as they occur to me.

You're welcome.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Geek Bliss!

Do you know who came to Austin, last night, on their tour? DO YOU?

Ohmigaw, I got to see THE ORIGINAL MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 CREW - well, most of them, anyway - LIVE, ON STAGE, making fun of a movie! For reals!

Actually, they aren't calling themselves MST3K anymore. Some of them split off into separate factions; this part of the group, which is the majority of the original players, is called Cinematic Titanic. And, if last night was any indication, I'll be buying, like, all of their DVDs, because they were freaking THE BEST THING EVER since the original show went off the air.

First off, there was a brief warmup by Dave "Gruber" Allan, whom the awesomest among you will remember as Lindsay's long-haired teacher from Freaks and Geeks. (A lot of those guys were on that show, too...I know Joel Hodgson and Trace Beaulieu were, at least. I'm presuming they are all tight.) He was HYSTERICAL.

Then, the guys (and Mary Jo Pehl, who is an Austinite) came out, and riffed on this godawful movie from the poster above, The Dynamite Brothers.

And, oh, lordy, what a bad movie it was. Near as I can figure, this movie, uncertain if it wanted to be kung fu or blaxploitation, ultimately just threw up its hands and said "Fuck it, let's just make this thing about extended shots of guys running down hills." (As Trace said at one point, "I'll bet the cutting room floor was as clean as a whistle.") I have not laughed so hard in months, MONTHS, I tell you.

It was a fabulous time, even though it was nearly derailed by a violent onset of something I shall delicately refer to as the "stomach flu," a.k.a. "the reason I was tearfully standing in the Congress Avenue CVS store twenty minutes before showtime begging to be led to the Imodium*."

Now, off to bed. I'm still wicked tired and weak from whatever-the-hell-this-was, but am actually a little glad to have some desire to sleep on this, the "spring-forward" Sunday night, on which I'm usually up 'til like 1 AM.

Happy early-late sleeping to everyone, and may you not be completely foul grouchy bastards this week. (However, in my experience, it's probably best to expect that everybody ELSE at your workplace will be a completely foul grouchy bastard this week.)

*And, on that subject, mad props to Imodium, y'all. That is some wondrous medication right there. I have no idea how it works - though I imagine all sorts of weird visuals in my head, like tiny little microscopic elves erecting barriers with poured concrete, singing "Hi Ho" - but I'm just glad it did.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

I forgot my blog

Hello, blog. I'm so sorry I've neglected you.

I do still have feelings for you I really do. But, I have to admit, you are not as sexy as you once were. You're...kind of...bulky. And high-maintenance.

At least compared to - well, YOU know.

That other site; the one that lets you just type a sentence, and feel like you've connected with a hundred or more of your friends with one fell swoop. Hell, it won't even let you type much more than two short sentences; it practically ENCOURAGES slacking. It - well, it's not as demanding. It just lets me be myself, lets me do my own thing, you know?

No, baby, it's not like that. I'm not abandoning you. We're committed, you and I. And I don't walk away from these things lightly. But, I gotta admit, I've strayed, and I've strayed hard.

What's a girl to do, to put the spark back into my relationship with my blog? I guess I need to try a little harder, communicate a little more. Give it some attention. Put on my figurative writing negligee and get in bed with it with gusto.

Tomorrow night. Because, you know, long day. I'm tired. Kiss kiss!