Archive for January, 2012

PINPOINT EVALUATION

January 22, 2012

As one ages, one finds that there are fewer and fewer things which seem as important as they once were, and some things become even more valued. In my experience, it occurred to me that there needed to be some sort of method to evaluate experiences, relationships, material needs, and other major components of a person’s daily living in order to communicate effectively between and among peer groups; but how to do this?

Finally, I decided that whatever was to be done needed to have roots in most persons’ backgrounds and experience, in order to enhance the semantic requirements for good communication. After long consideration, I finally came up with a 10-point rating scale, which I termed “The RA Scale”, and which applied a rating of “RA-1” to those things for which a person has extreme commitment and interest, “RA-10” for those In which a person has absolutely no concern, and other ratings in-between to quantify and assign values as appropriate.

Having applied this scale to numerous situations, and having educated many of my colleagues into its application so that they too may enjoy the comfort of mutual understandings of often-complex issues, it has been found to be highly accurate and more than effective in addressing potentially confusing concerns and problems.

Finally, I am always being asked to explain upon what principle this system has been established. Actually, it’s quite simple.  Almost everyone has heard someone say, “I don’t give a Rat’s Ass” when asked to comment on some item of interest. And hence, The RA-Scale.

Go ahead and use it, with my permission. I didn’t copyright it, as I feel it should be owned by society as a whole, not be the property of any one person.

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Cairo

January 22, 2012

On the Way to Cairo

Here I am, cruising at around 35,000 feet and less than two hours from landing in Cairo. We should be getting there around 5:30 p.m., and I of course have not slept for quite awhile. I think I’ll just crash when I get to the hotel, a five star luxury spa that someone else is paying for. I won’t even care if my luggage doesn’t make it, I won’t think about changing clothes until I wake up!

The flights so far have been uneventful, which is what you want when flying. I must admit that the turbulence over the Balkans (note how I just “throw around these terms as if I really knew something), those mountains in the Kosovo area. Our route apparently takes us the length of the Pelopennesus (that may be spelled wrong, it’s all greek to me) so that even if the layer of clouds below were not there, we wouldn’t see much of the Mediterranean or its beaches

I have been studying some homemade flash cards, hoping to learn some useful Arabic phrases; I’m being tutored by a lady who was my assigned partner for a school evaluation visit in Glenrock, Wyoming, and who speaks Arabic. She sends me lists of things I should learn, one of the highlights is “Where is the bathroom?”, but then she almost ruined it by describing those very bathrooms. I’m finding Arabic very hard to pronounce and even more difficult to hear when spoken.

I’m looking out the window at some mountain peaks below, and the sun is gloriously imaging itself off what I believe to be the Mediterranean. I also see two tiny planes far below, they appear to be almost skimming the land. The coastline has suddenly appeared, and presents a contrast between the sun-drenched bronze water and the darker chunks of land. Now there is a large city below, hugging the water with the arms around a large bay; I wish I knew what it is.

First Days

Well, the second day dawned clear and sunny, except for the ubiquitous dust in the air from off the surrounding desert, and the pollution from the millions of cars. For awhile, I thought I was in Nirvana; those who know me well know that I just love breakfasts, but this one put all others to shame. It is a buffet, but with nine separate areas to sample, and I did all of them! The usual stuff for Americans—scrambled eggs, link style sausage (beef and chicken, no pork), potatoes, pancakes. But then one dives into all the exotic fruits and grains and I discovered cold muesli mixed with yogurt is soon to become a favorite. Slices of pineapple and orange, dates, a whole table of variants of feta cheese (certain to appeal to at least one of you, you know who you are), other fruits, choices among the hot beverages including strong Turkish coffee—-I felt like I had replicated one of my grandsons who, in visiting The World of Coca-Cola exhibit in Atlanta, sampled all 60 of the coke samples from around the world. And tomorrow I get to do it all over again!

One of the interesting situations is that I’m the only one on the evaluation team who doesn’t speak Arabic, beyond a few choice phrases like “hello”, “thank you”, “you’re welcome”. In riding through the traffic, I have wished I had asked how to say something nasty, like “up yours” or some close approximation to use in times of stress. I’m told that there are 35 million people in Cairo, and if so, then everyone of them of age to drive, was driving today. The city is the most spread-out community ever, and it takes hours to get anywhere. As was the case in the other Arab country I visited last year, Saudi Arabia, there seems to be no rules; at the same time I saw no accidents in any of the cities in spite of the fact that people cut in and out with maybe as much as an inch to spare. Good brakes and seat belts are a top priority for me, even though I wisely sit in the back seats. To summarize, it makes the LA. Freeways look like Thermopolis during the rush hour.

Life occasionally issues one some disappointments, some big, some small, and some as the result of some long-term anticipation that doesn’t work out quite the way one wants. Today was a good example—The Pyramids and the Sphinx. First, it took quite awhile to get to their location, and before we could even get close there were young men leaping in front of our van, trying to stop us so they could hire out as guides. We almost hit several. When we finally arrived, police checked ID’s and issued a parking permit so we could get nearer to Old Cheops, the first one we came to. As we emerged from the van, there was another onslaught of guides, souvenir salesmen, camel and horse owners wanting to rent you a ride, etc. The sales guys won’t take “la” (the word for no) for an answer, and greatly irritated all of us, particularly me. Our driver arranged for a guide; it seems that he takes us so far and then passes us along to a partner (in crime, probably) who in turn passes us to another. It’s not a bad system, if that’s what you need. But all I wanted to do was find a quiet spot to sit and contemplate the 3 million stones (Guide #1) stacked up in front of us, that wasn’t possible. In fact, we couldn’t really pause for very long because the guides kept shooing us along quickly. We were not given time to go near any of the other pyramids, or even walk all the way around Cheops. I do have to say Yes, they are impressive, as is the Sphinx, but not having the opportunity to soak in some ambiance was a real crusher. I had been fascinated with Egyptology since taking a World History class in sophomore high school and even considered that as a potential career.

And Now to Work

During the past two days, we have interviewed groups of students, teachers, support staff, parents, alumni, and even one of the three Board members. The latter structure has only three members, with two of them representing the corporation that owns the school as a for-profit venture. We talked to “the other member”, a cardiological surgeon whose daughter graduated from the school and who is in  her freshman year at the Cairo American University. During our time at the school, we are plied with interesting varieties of candies, combinations of chocolate, nuts, cookies, coconut, and other delights. Lunches are a mixture of Egyptian-style cooking along with more boring general issue.

The two of us from the US still haven’t adjusted to the jetlag/time zone difference; I wake up around 3 or 4 a.m. and can’t go back to sleep. Since we present our reports tomorrow, I decided to modify my personal Wyoming schedule so that when I wake up in the middle of the night, I’ll just start writing my final drafts and have them ready when we meet as a group for the final decisions.

I found out that the population of Cairo is not 35 million as I had been led to believe; it’s only around 13 or 14 million, with another million or so thrown in from outside the city. And there are only 3 ½ million vehicles, although all of them seem to be always on the streets.

Our visit is important to the school; they have a little guy following us around with a video camera and bright filming lights, accompanied by another man with still cameras. The contstant barrage of the bright lights and sudden appearance by either of these two is very irritating; finding privacy is quite difficult. I managed to avoid going to the restroom until I could return to the hotel, for that reason as well as for the fact that in most of the school’s toilets, they don’t use paper, only a spray of cold water from below when you complete your task.

My lack of being able to speak Arabic is a real hindrance during interview sessions, especially when the participants are not facile in English. I generally just sit by, and hope that I get a decent translation from one of the other team members. Usually, I just nod knowingly and chuckle when the others chuckle. I’ve done that for years at school district meetings. That seems to take care of the diplomatic needs and everyone leaves smiling. Everyone is always wanting to shake hands, men and women alike, even though you may have seen the same person sometime in the past hour or so.

The school facility is a three story building with a courtyard landscaped with palm trees and ferns, and another area which is really an outdoor gym. Students play soccer each lunch period. There is also a heated indoor pool with four lanes, that students swim in during noon, and a massive exercise room filled with those white torture machines.

Classes are mostly small, some with only 2 or 3 students, while the junior and senior classes have 24 and 25 members respectively and are quite large compared to the other K-10 grades. Academically, the program is quite good; we interviewed a group of 7 graduates and all of them said that they had been well prepared to go to college. One, a college senior, said that she learned nothing new during her freshman year; this school had provided such a good base.

We finish our assignment tomorrow afternoon, and will attend a dinner with the school administration. Friday morning the program coordinator and the vice-principal will take me to have morning coffee/tea at a place on the banks of the Nile, so that finally I can indulge in some contemplation. I may even have another try at the pyramids, this time on my own if I can figure a way to get there. I’m told that traffic is always very light on Friday mornings due to it being their “Sunday church day”, it will take about 40 minutes to get there. We’ll see. My plane leaves at 3 a.m. after midnight Friday, for the long trip home

Last Day

Today is Friday, sort of the Islamic Sabbath, and there was no morning traffic. A driver who had been prearranged for me by my organization showed up EARLY, certainly an almost unknown in this part of the world, and off we went toward the pyramids and Sphinx. All I wanted to do was spend a couple of quiet hours, contemplating and sitting somewhere so I could Gaze at Giza, restfully enjoying peace and quiet. Wow, was I wrong!

I had barely entered the gate and walked toward the Sphinx, when a local started in on me, telling me he was a hired security person and he would lead me into the fenced area. Since he actually had a key to the steel gate, I believed him. You would think someone who had spent many years as a middle school principal would know better, but I’m usually a trusting soul. Whenever I made a move toward some area, he followed and began spouting little-known facts and figures—-“this is Cleopatra’s tomb, you know, with the Roman Anthony—–Here is where a king and queen were in sarcophagi, the woman is always on the right—these catacombs were for the workers after they died—-the deep pits were for storing water—–did you know that the Nile used to flow here?”  Actually, he was a wealth of information, and the latter remark really is interesting. The plain on which the pyramids are built was formerly on the banks of the Nile; the river is now about 300 feet below. Boat slips are in close proximity; they were used in bringing stone from Luxor, hundreds of miles upriver, to use in the projects. Ultimately, I realized that he was not a security guard, he was a guide out hustling some cash. I decided it was worth about $20, and paid him. However, he introduced me to “his brother, the night watchman”, who also wanted some money. And virtually everyone else within a half mile of the place—the camel jockeys wanting you to either take a ride or take a picture, the younger ones hawking postcards, the man in the SunBoat display who wouldn’t leave me alone and asked for a gift, and on and on. I was seething with anger by the time I headed back down the hill past the sphinx, to meet the driver. Alert bystanders would have heard me issue a few choice remarks that would have seared the hair off nearby camels, had they been a bit closer. I tried to achieve aloneness by ducking between two of the earliest, rough looking smaller piles of rock that are called pyramids; postcard sellers followed and wouldn’t go away even though I told them “No” in my best Arabic (La!) This is where I could have used  a phrase I mentioned in Cairo #3, or at least one of its brothers.

The rest of the day consisted of a lunch at the local AdvancEd coordinator’s flat, along with a colleague with whom I had done two schools last spring in Saudi Arabia. Traffic was picking up, and I unfortunately was assigned to the front passenger seat. My colleague was delighted to sit in the back; I told him that when I got out at the hotel and he moved up front, to be careful that he didn’t get his foot caught in the hole in the floorboards where my foot had been. They love to follow about 3 inches behind the next car, at 65 mph, then suddenly change lanes in front of speeding oncoming traffic. I used to think my wife’s nephew as the top of the daredevil class; he doesn’t even rate in Cairo. It’s ironic that I don’t ride roller coasters due to fear and the probability that I’ll get motion sick; those things are actually very safe. But you can easily get killed riding around Cairo.

Well, I’m all packed and loaded with trinkets, bought for many of you last night at a huge mall that included a bazaar section along with the classy shops on the five floors. We ate at an Egyptian restaurant and the food was excellent, catapulting it near the top of my favorites’ list. My plane leaves at 3 a.m. for Frankfurt, Germany, and is the beginning of a 25 hour Odyssey, Wyoming weather permitting.

Ma salaama (goodbye)

TEACHING THE WORK ETHIC

January 21, 2012

What is the Work  Ethic? There are at least two perceptions of this concept;  the first, and oldest, is that “work is a moral good” (Merriam-Webster dictionary), or  “there is moral value in work” (The Free Dictionary. These two definitions place Work into the philosophical realm and are sometimes referenced as “the Protestant Work Ethic”, but do little to provide a practical application to the real world. And, as is not unusual, definitions and perceptions change over time, and current usage would more accurately describe the Work Ethic as “that cluster of behaviors one brings to a task or career which enhance the likelihood of success”(my definition!), and which are easily observed and objectively evaluated. (more…)

MAKING LEARNING A CONSTANT

January 21, 2012

Making Learning a Constant

In 1970, my wife and I were part-time instructors at Aims Community College in Greeley, Colorado, while I worked toward my doctorate. Mary was teaching Biology-related classes; I taught General Anthropology. At the beginning of the school year, we were fortunate to have two days of professional development under the direction of Donald Stewart, an educator who had become frustrated with “traditional” approaches to education and had carefully thought out a new direction to investigate with the intent of improving student learning. (more…)

Student Success

January 19, 2012

Student Success:  Family, Motivation, and Patti Fiasco

One of the rewards of having had a long career in education is seeing many former students achieving success at the highest levels. I can think of numerous examples; one student who became a top assistant to the governor of our state, several serving as county attorneys, another who designed the orbital programs for the Magellan and Jupiter Space Probes, and has his own space engineering firm while also being a full professor at a prestigious state university, and on and on. These were all good students, some of them coming from single-parent homes, some from the “traditional” family structure. But all of them achieved, and benefited from strong support in the family arena.   (more…)

Middle School Kids

January 10, 2012

If you’re the parent of a middle school child, you have already discovered that they don’t come with an owner’s manual, and that there may be some questions for which you want some input. We’ll look at a few items of information, and maybe even some suggestions!  We’re looking essentially at kids in grades 5-8, but 4 and 9 may also benefit.

Why don’t they listen to me? (more…)

Education In America—Is It That Bad?

January 10, 2012

Education in America—Is it THAT bad?

The next time you hear on a television news report how American education compares with that of other countries, you really should have the opportunity to ask a few questions. Here are a few, with explanations—

  1. 1.       On what basis are the comparisons being made? (more…)