Wednesday, April 29

Dear NYSED, Grow Up.

One of the marks of an adult, particularly those who seek to hold positions of authority (let alone anyone who wants to be a genuine leader) is the ability to acknowledge when one has made a mistake or done something poorly, and a willingness to act responsibly, maturely and humbly in collaborating with others to fix it. 

The New York State Department of Education (NYSED) clearly never got that memo.

It pretended to listen when there was a huge outcry against Common Core and the associated testing when it they first launched. It tried to soothe ruffled feathers (without actually doing anything about the cause) when people didn't sit down and shut up about the accumulating mess that unfolded as roll-out continued. 

Now it is pouting and petulantly threatening to withhold money and (it implies) make children and school districts suffer if parents don't get over their obnoxious misconception that they have rights or a say in this whole situation and quit refusing to have their children participate in the tests. 

Real mature, guys. Seriously. 

In Capital Region school districts alone, "anywhere from 2 percent to 53 percent of students did not take the tests."  These numbers aren't unique - similar percentages are showing up across the state. When over half of the families in some districts are opting out, it seems like it is long past time for NYSED to quit acting like an overtired toddler and start approaching the situation like adults. 

When this is how your constituents see your program,
you may have a problem...
Is it that hard for all of us (that means you too, NYSED) acknowledge that Common Core, however good and well intentioned its premise, it being badly implemented and everybody knows it? Is it that horrifically unreasonable to take the list of legitimate reasons people are throwing fits and rethink/revise Common Core the implementation plan? 

Maybe it is. Maybe NYSED can't muster that kind of maturity. But if that's the case, I'd like to offer them a small reminder - you're not the only ones who can make threats and control purse strings. Homeschooling, unschooling, and all kinds of permutations thereof are easier, more accessible, and more cost effective now that ever before. With some big employers stating flat out that they give hiring preference to home-schooled kids, these alternatives also have more clout and leverage than ever before. You think it's rough now, with 53% of parents refusing to have their kids test - think how screwed you'd be if even a fraction of those parents pulled their kids out of your system entirely.

So please, NYSED, open your eyes and get your act together. It's not too late to clean this up and do right by parents, teachers, students, and school districts. (In fact, research shows that when you step up to fix a mistake, you actually earn far more loyal adherents than if you'd never made a mistake at all.) But don't compound your existing mistakes by trying to ram compliance down everyone's throat here - you may just bite off more than you can chew. 

Monday, April 27

My Elegant & Complex Garden Plan

Despite never properly putting our garden "to bed" last year, I had great intentions of being totally on top of things this spring. Mapping out a garden plan, companion planting, researching what specific strains of common veggies (tomatoes, etc.) grow best in our region - you get the idea. 

But after a brutal (and busy) winter, I found myself with nothing planned or in place when that first post-it popped up in my planner reminding me that it was time to start planting seeds for this year's garden. What I did have was a pile of assorted seeds in the freezer whose age, levels of proper prep for saving, and probability of sprouting varied dramatically.

Since we've (finally) found a couple good farmers' markets locally and signed up for a CSA this year, I knew our primary veggie needs would be covered regardless of what we grew ourselves. [insert sigh of relief here]  Thus, I settled on my highly elegant and complex garden plan for this year: throw everything  on hand at the dirt and plant what sprouts.   :)

I reassured myself that if we somehow got an abysmally low sprouting rate we could always pick up a handful of seedlings somewhere to fill in any empty garden space. As it turns out, though, our sprouting rate was much higher than anticipated! I've made a huge mess twice already - once in the original round of planting, and again when I transplanted a bunch of seedlings to bigger cups.

I started with seeds for two kinds of pumpkins (cheese and sugar), peppers (chili and two varieties of bell/sweet), broccoli, carrots, eggplant, spinach, arugula, butternut squash, tomatoes (three varieties), onions, and lavender. So far I have no cheese pumpkins, eggplant, or peppers and only 1 butternut squash seedling. Everything else is thriving... and starting to take over our window sills. If they keeping soaking up what sunshine we can get, they'll (hopefully) be strong and ready for their move outdoors Memorial Day weekend.

Meanwhile, our wild edibles (like purslane) are starting to make an appearance, and our established perennials (rhubarb) are showing new growth as well. (Yay!)

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that everything survives my poor gardening skills (and the deer), and that we get a great harvest this year despite my very inelegant plan.

Friday, April 17

Common Sense In Utah (But Not So Much D.C.)

I read recently that Utah is trying to pass a law to once again make it legal to execute prisoners on death row by firing squad. Lawmakers in both the state's House and Senate passed the measure, and the only question is whether the Governor will sign it. 

Apparently the move was prompted by recent shortages of lethal injection drugs; lawmakers wanted to have a backup option in case they become completely unavailable. The more informed among them pointed out that it also has the potential to be much more humane, considering how nasty things can get when a lethal injection is botched.

Personally, I think the idea is an excellent one. Far from making them look "backwards and backwoods" as one opponent put it, it makes them look like a dying breed... people who understand both math and guns!

Even relatively expensive ammunition is pretty darn cheap.  Between the military and the police, there should be no shortage of individuals with the training to lethally shoot someone. (Given the nature of the people to be executed, I'd lay money you could get any number of those qualified individuals to volunteer for the job!)  If the person doesn't die instantly, you can instantly put another round into their brain and it's over. No drawn out suffering, no mess.

Lethal injection drugs are anything but cheap. They have to be ordered/shipped from Europe, handled and stored under strict guidelines, and administered by specialized staff. There is plenty of room for messy failure, complications, and suffering.

According to the original reporter (article linked above) "The Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment, says a firing squad is not a foolproof execution method because the inmate could move or shooters could miss the heart, causing a slower, more painful death." (Personally, I'd like to ask if they actually understand how firing squads work, or if they've ever heard of "execution style".... the way firing squads will end up with anything other than fast death is if stupid and excessive regulations prevent second shots/head shot when they're called for.)

As a voter, I can tell you which one I'm behind - the one that's more efficient, more cost effective, and faster/cleaner for the person being executed. Whether or not there should be a death penalty is its own question. But for as long as it is legal in some states, let's demonstrate some common sense in carrying it out, shall we? 

Kudos to you Utah. I hope your Governor gets on board!

Wednesday, April 15

Juxtaposition of Trends

I ran across an article in early March marveling at how at-home fitness/workout series like those sold by Beachbody are not only surviving, but thriving. The author was somewhat baffled by how that continues to happen, despite national low-cost gym chains, movements like Crossfit, and our society's seeming ubiquitous need to be outgoing and social in everything we do.

Shortly thereafter, it hit the news that gym chain Planet Fitness revoked a woman's membership after she complained about a transgender man in the women's locker room. Apparently, the company's policy is for members to decide which gender they most identify with, and then use the corresponding locker room. Not surprisingly, not only was the woman involved in the incident horrified, but many other women using that gym that she talked to were equally upset. This irritated the gym, who chose to kick her out in hopes of making the issue go away.

According to an opinion piece written elsewhere online, the whole incident is a perfect example of why, as a society:

We need to be focusing on the institutional segregation of genders as a whole to start dealing with this issue.

It’s not just going to go away, and the only way I can see to begin tackling this problem is doing away with the time-honored divide between men and women.
The author goes on to say that we should just "desegregate bathrooms and locker rooms", and then no one has to be offended. Now, to his credit the author seems to think that completely individualized (i.e. single person use/sized) locker rooms are the perfect answer. I don't know where this person gets his concept of reality, because its should take about two seconds to do the math on that and figure out how completely unrealistic that is in terms of space and money, but at least he wasn't suggesting (as many are) that locker rooms should retain their current format and be desegregated, and that all of us prudes who don't want the opposite sex to see us naked (it's just a body as the logic goes) should get over our old fashioned selves.

Still, I couldn't help but think that with policies like this one becoming the norm, it really shouldn't be any surprise that people are choosing to work out in the safety of their own homes!

Monday, April 13

Being Efficient

I knew pretty early in March that April was going to be a busy month. After a quiet panic attack, my type A personality kicked in, and I did what I always do: attempted to organize everything that threatened to pile up and overwhelm me to within an inch of its life.  :)

I dug out my planner and my colored pens (Christmas gifts that I am loving!) and started making lists and blocking out days on my calendar. I pulled my sticky notes and covered my planner pages in reminders. Popped open excel and made a six page spreadsheet of all my tasks by subject area (home, work, class, and general reminders). 

Then, I hopped over to this great post that I've had bookmarked forever with the Top 6 Tips on how to be efficient by Dan Ariely. 

I made this my desktop background to remind me that time
is particularly precious right now, and there's none to waste!
I've long internalized tips #1 and 3 - The World IS Working Against You and Write Everything Down. To help myself manage a crazy April, I latched on to tips # 2 and #5: Control Your Environment (Or It Will Control You) and Watch for the Horsemen of the Productivity Apolocolypse: email, multi-tasking, and "structured procrastination" - i.e. doing little stuff that makes you feel productive, but doesn't actually accomplish anything important.

I also added one more, prompted by my Nutritional Therapy training - take care of yourself. Everything gets worse in a hurry if you don't prioritize the basics: good food, enough water, good quality sleep, and consistent pauses to rest/recharge and stretch.

None of it is rocket science or new wisdom, but actually sticking to it has made all the difference. Halfway into the month, I'm on or ahead of target on all my key tasks/deadlines! 

Which of Dan's six rules do you embrace, and which ones do you need to work on?