The older I get, the more things stay the same

Summer hiatus is a challenge for me ; I am compulsively obsessed with education. However, this summer I have made an effort and, until today, have left my pile of things to consider in a far corner of our spare bedroom.

This week, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved implementation of the National Standards. Standard based education – and the testing that goes with it – is nothing new. We’ve been working with standards for years. The new standards – like it or lump it – will be tied to testing and most likely funding. Isn’t that the SOSDD?

There seems to have been a lot of debate about the merits of adopting the National Standards in Massachusetts. I don’t know for sure because 1) teachers are seldom invited to be part of the debates, and 2) most of this happened in the Spring when teachers are too busy with actual teaching to engage in investigations of new standards.  That would leave the politicos and “think tanks” to debate the merits. And despite the predictions of watering down the education (and testing!) of students, the Board adopted the National Standards.

So, we in Massachusetts, have something new to consider. As a grade level Math Lead, I downloaded the National Mathematics Standards for my grade level (thereby breaking my summer hiatus) and to be honest, they seem to be exactly what we focused on with just the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks . This is hardly a surprise. The Massachusetts Mathematics Frameworks have historically been based on National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Standards and, if what one reads in news outlets is correct, the National Standards are heavily influenced by the Massachusetts Frameworks.

Some who oppose(d) the adoption of the National Standards have predicted that this will mark the end of MCAS testing. Puh-leeze. If a single high-stakes do-or-die test is done away with in this state, I’ll fall off my chair. MCAS or something resembling it (and possibly dictated by the Feds) is here to stay. For those who think that a single test tells whether or not a child has a good education, whether or not a teacher is qualified, whether or not real estate can fetch top dollar because students score well (oops, let that little piece of sarcasm slip), relax! We can and will continue to spend inordinate amounts of time testing the students.

So what is all the uproar about? Maybe I’m missing something, but what I’ve seen doesn’t appear to be education Armageddon.

How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains!

This is a quote from John Muir who advocated for preserving the natural beauty in our country.

Every so often I need a head slap from nature to gain back perspective.  Last week, I was lucky enough to do just that when Adrien and I traveled to Mount Desert Island for a mini-vacation. The Island, long a summer destination, is the location of Acadia National Park.

The first item on my bucket list was to be at the summit of Cadillac Mountain for sunrise. Cadillac, being the highest point on the Eastern Atlantic Seaboard, is easily reached by foot or by car. Obviously at 4:30 am – the time we would need to start out in order to be on the 1,532 foot summit for the sun’s morning appearance – car travel would be my preference over a hike over unknown terrain in the dark.

We arrived just as nature was getting ready to put on the show. Even with 50 or more people at the mountain top (and no small percentage of them with camera equipment), we were easily able to find a spot on the bare rocks so that Frenchman Bay and Bar Harbor stretched out below us.  The air was still damp and chilly even though it was July, and most people huddled in heavy sweatshirts or fleece jackets. Some had the foresight to bring coffee.

A continually drifting blanket of clouds and fog enveloped us while, visible mid-horizon, a swath of puffy cloud stretched horizontally.

First view from Cadillac Mountain.

Then bit by bit, the hue of that cloud changed as the sun began to make its presence known.

Minute to minute, the sky changed its hues from cool blues to warmer, oranges and pinks until at last the sun washed us in the first light of July 16th.

In that moment, watching the universe play out its opening scene as it

has for millions of years, the grandeur of the morning overwhelmed me. How precious is this gift of time on earth! How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains!

we are washed in gold.

And little by little

Reflections on the Fourth of July

It is no secret that politics in the United States are a puzzlement to me. Things I believe in – the common good, generosity and understanding in treatment of those who are not like me, a belief that freedom is a treasure that should not be eroded – these things are often not valued, if one can believe what gets reported by the fifth estate.  Can the media today be trusted to report on the facts, to dig deeper than the public relations of a situation? It is all so confusing, and often discouraging. Often I don’t know what to make of things.

Last night, however, I was watching a program on the History Channel about the Revolutionary War. As a matter of fact, this program was in the middle of the series and mostly what I learned was about how the United States came to have any kind of government at all.  Post 1776 was a chaotic time; a slight change would have taken this country down a different path.

As you might expect, the emotional fervor with which colonists became part of the Revolutionary War turned into a “now what?” situation once the outcome of the the actual battles became apparent. By 1781, Cornwallis had surrendered to General Washington, but an actual Peace Treaty with England would not be signed until nearly a year later. The Continental Congress would form a government which little by little gained recognition of other countries – first Spain, then Denmark and then Russia. It must have been quite difficult to fly in the face of England, a world power, in support of this newly formed United States.

Obviously everyone did not give this new United States much of a chance for success.  In fact, in 1783, General Washington had to persuade the remains of the Continental Army not to rebel against the newly formed government. When I consider all that happened after the battles, after the Declaration of Independence, it is a miracle that this country indeed exists as it does.

So how does this history connect to the current state of affairs? For me, it is hopeful that over 200 years ago, despite all that could have gone awry, the United States came into being. It became the great and welcoming country to my ancestors, the country where differing views could be tolerated, where it wasn’t a crime to think – and to say – what you believe.

The United States is still a place where you can disagree and not end up in jail. And despite the discomfort with some of the politics of our time in history, I am glad to be here in the United States. If our country could endure the chaos of its beginnings, then there is hope. Hope that we will speak out when personal rights are challenged, hope that we will speak up against wrong and not just accept what is reported by those who may have an agenda. And hope that we will continue to be that welcoming place for all.

Happy Fourth.