Too Much Driving

We had a dangerous storm system come through town Monday evening (May 10). It had already produced tornadoes, already destroyed property, and it was sheer luck that the funnels lifted as they approached the city.

So, while the storm was passing over, the US-400 (Kellogg) freeway was a parking lot, jam-packed with people trying to scamper home. Why didn’t these people just look for a tornado shelter where they were? Obviously, they didn’t figure on everyone else in town having the same “flight” reaction. Perhaps they wanted to be with loved ones if this was the end. Perhaps, they felt, like in the old Gary Numan song: “Here in my car, I feel safest of all. I can lock all the doors, it’s the only way in.”

Safe? in a car? In a Tornado?! What I think is happening here is that we are so conditioned by our car-centric lifestyles that we aren’t even _able_ to think of alternative courses of action. And that’s sad. Because it doesn’t have to be that way. We could choose to look for jobs within a few miles of our homes, or we could choose to move closer to our jobs. Heck, huge numbers of people in big cities across the country don’t even bother owning cars.

Can you imagine how much money you could save if you didn’t have a car payment? If you never had to buy gas? If you could walk, or ride the bus, wherever and whenever you needed to go? If you didn’t have to pay taxes for billions of dollars’ worth of “free” ways?

On second thought, don’t think about it. The numbers are just too depressing. Cars and highways: The great American Money Pits.

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The Evil “Windows” Key

You know that key on Windows keyboards that has the little flying window picture on it? This was another obvious attempt by Microsoft to look more like a Mac — why they didn’t just eliminate a mouse button and delete the “End-of-Line” key and change “Backspace” to “Delete,” we’ll never know. Nor do we want to.

Anyhow, for us Lefties, that Windows key was a UI disaster. I would be typing along, and all of a sudden some random program would launch itself. That’s right; my finger slipped and I pressed “Window-R.” And then, occasionally, I’d suddenly find myself looking at an empty desktop. “Windows-D.”

Maybe it’s not a lefty thing. Maybe I’m the only one with fingers that bend that way. Whatever. The point is, I pried that stupid key loose several months ago and mounted it on the wall like a hunting trophy. I like it a lot better up there.

And I’m sure glad “Window-F” didn’t ever short-cut to “format hard drive.”

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review – “No School Left Behind” Myles Friedman

“No School Left Behind: How to Increase Student Achievement”
by Myles Friedman
Published by The Institute for Evidence-Based Decision-Making in Education (http://edieinstitute.net/), of which Dr. Friedman just happens to be a past president.

When it comes to education, opinions are not hard to find. Parents, teachers, school boards and politicians all claim to know “the answer” to whatever problem (real or imagined) has caught their attention. So it was refreshing to find Myles Friedman book “No School Left Behind.” This book contains opinions, of course, but they are backed up by research. The notion that the research should precede and define the opinion is, perhaps, the most refreshing opinion of all.
In the first eight chapters, Dr. Friedman uses simple, concrete examples to illustrate educational practices that are shown by research to be effective, as well as practices that are shown to be ineffective or even harmful. He then takes two chapters to restate the key scientific facts and clearly summarize his primary recommendations, and closes with a school effectiveness checklist.
Friedman’s recommendations boil down to this:
“Great strides can be made in reducing the failure rate by advancing (1) teacher and administrator preparation and (2) preventive tutoring.”
Teacher Preparation means making sure the teacher knows what methods are effective and how to apply them. A key feature of effective teaching is sensible testing to be able to accurately and quicky assess each student’s progress. “The focus needs to be on teaching evaluation instead of teacher evaluation.” The teacher’s personality and knowledge are important, but not as important as knowing what constitutes effective teaching.
Preventive Tutoring means offering one-on-one tutoring as soon as it becomes apparent the student is having trouble understanding the current lesson. This is in contrast to remedial tutoring, which is typically offered only after the student has brought home a “D” or “F” laden report card.
Friedman makes several other cogent points in the book: Students in the pre-Kindergarten age group can learn effectively, given a trained teacher and a high enough teacher/student ratio; class size has little bearing on student success (until you get _below_ 15 students).; time management is crucial, both as something the teacher must do and as something the students must learn; students are better motivated when given relevant real-life problems; and so on.
The book is written in a plain, straightforward style that should be comprehensible even to the most opinionated school board member. Sadly, it appears that a plain, straightforward style doesn’t include footnotes. Instead, all references are listed together in a pair of pages immediately preceding the index. This is fine for a popular book, but I have to imagine it would ┬ábe maddening to a typical research-oriented academic reader. Thankfully, I’m not one of those, and enjoyed the read.
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Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress.com. This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!

Well, who am I to mess with tradition? This is my first post.

Let’s talk about… roads. And cars. And feet. And schools.

A nice back road picture

I think it was John McPhee who said “the Plains States are libeled by their Interstate Highways.” This picture was taken a scant 1/4 mi. east of I-135 in Kansas. From the highway, everything was flat. Oh, there were a couple of hills off in the distance, if you cared to turn your head that far. But who does that? Blinders on, cell phones open, air conditioners blasting, and get from where you were to where you’re going as fast as possible.

I’m all about slowing down. At least, that’s the plan for this blog.

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