The Blue Whale, Catoosa, OK

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I am guilty of sitting around in my insulated world and not tapping into the wanderlust that is deep in my soul.  I am perfectly content to sit at home under the branches of my magnolia tree and read books.  Thankfully, my husband is more proactive and so every so often we get in the car and actually go someplace.

It is seldom anywhere romantic or exotic like Europe; usually it is to the Midwest to see his family in Iowa.  We have just returned from a two thousand mile trip through six states and while it wasn’t Paris, it was just what I needed.

I love getting out and meeting people on the road, hearing their stories, and tapping back into the heart of America.  I spend far too much time on the wrong side of the computer screen.

We drove Route 66 through Oklahoma and, armed with my maps and research, we explored The Mother Road and its roadside attractions.  We located original alignments and near Sapulpa, Oklahoma even found a patch where the asphalt had worn away right down to the original Portland concrete.

Sometimes it’s the little things!

We met a couple there who were doing the same thing; they had done half of Route 66 last year and were back this year to finish it up.  “We thought we could do it in two weeks,” he explained, “but each time we stop and talk to people or look at something, well, two hours have gone by!”

Near Catoosa, Oklahoma where The Blue Whale is, we met a man on a motorcycle who was taking the Mother Road east to west on his bike with his daughter; she learned how to ride just to do the trip with him.

In Baxter Springs, Kansas, where the Rainbow Bridge is, we found the friendliest people of the entire trip.  We talked to a man over breakfast who was originally from Louisiana so we had a lot in common.

This is what is so restorative about our little summer trips to the Midwest: we meet the nicest people, hear the coolest stories, and see the neatest things.  It’s not Paris, it’s not London, it’s America.  Real America, real people, and the roots of who we all are.  The trip restored my faith in us as a country and as a people.  To read the news, we are all angry about something or injured in some way by a monument or a bias.

This isn’t really true.  We are a land of proud people who love their communities and who have the capacity to reach out and be human.  We show kindness and can welcome strangers into our cities and towns.  We take time to talk to each other and find common bonds.  We share stories and meals and we always can appreciate the simple joys and the beauty around us.

Get outside this summer, y’all!

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport. She is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

USS VIRGINIA (CGN-38), By Camera Operator: PH2 D. KNEISLER (ID:DN-SC-88-06640 / Service Depicted: Navy) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
You can’t stop hearing about the Chinese Navy and their advances in technology. Did you know they have an aircraft carrier?

There is a “considerable chance” the number of aircraft-carrying ships available in the Chinese navy will be seven instead of four by 2025 because of a “lower profile defense program” that has already taken shape, a new report indicates.

Or what about a super cool railgun, apparently better than the U.S. Navy’s?

While the United States spent years dithering over the future of its much-hyped electromagnetic railgun project, China ate its lunch. The Chinese navy plans to field its own secretive version of the electromagnetic railgun on naval vessels as early as 2025, according to a U.S. intelligence assessment first reported by CNBC.

Or the latest Chinese anti-ship missiles?

China unveiled its Type 055 naval destroyer on June 28, the latest step in its decade and a half of military buildup. The new Chinese destroyer outcompetes U.S. destroyers and cruisers, highlighting a major failure in U.S. Navy planning that stretches back to the 1990s. Given the 055’s long-range supersonic YJ-18 and YJ-12 over the horizon (OTH) anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), the Chinese destroyer currently outcompetes U.S. Arleigh Burke class destroyers and bigger Ticonderoga class cruisers.

Man, it’s like so…1971.

Continue reading “China’s Navy is a flashback to the 70’s”

President Trump’s announcement that he wants a Space Force has sparked plenty of complaints and tons of memes. He’s not the first to clamor for a space force, but he would be foolish to let the Air Force (which seems like a logical choice) run the Space Force.

The President needs to put a retired Admiral or Marine in charge of any Space Force if he plans to get it off the ground.

Continue reading “Put an Admiral in charge of the Space Force”

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I abhor censorship, especially when it comes to books and things like banned books lists and instances where people who deem themselves more forward thinking than all the rest of us in their decisions to “protect” us from offensive material.

You will have no doubt heard by now about the decision to strip Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from a prestigious book award title:

A division of the American Library Association has voted to remove the name of Laura Ingalls Wilder from a major children’s book award, over concerns about how the author portrayed African Americans and Native Americans.

The board of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) made the unanimous decision to change the name on Saturday, at a meeting in New Orleans. The name of the prize was changed from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award.

The association said Wilder “includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC’s core values”.

The first award was given to Wilder in 1954. The ALSC said Wilder’s work continued to be published and read but her “legacy is complex” and “not universally embraced.”

So this is my question:  why must something be “universally embraced” for it to be acceptable?

As a child I read every one of the Little House on the Prairie books; I loved them.  They transported me to that frontier era and taught me a lot about how those early settlers survived.  I was fascinated by them.

I never read the books as a child and thought, “Well, my goodness, that’s an awfully racist way to depict Indians.”

The Association for Library Service to Children has the right to make decisions about their own award, certainly.  What concerns me, and always has when it comes to things like this, is where does it stop?  Are we now to go back and revise every piece of literature that mentions Indian violence on the frontier?

What else in our American literary canon might offend someone?  The list could be pretty extensive.

This is so closely related to those people who want to ban To Kill a Mockingbird or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from reading lists and libraries because they contain language we no longer use today.

Somebody cue Guy Montag…he can handle this.

 

 

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.  She is the author of Cane River Bohemia (Oct. ’18).  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter.


Amidst all the news about the military housing children illegally entering the country (because somehow that relates to fighting our nation’s wars??), the story about the abrupt resignation of the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON), the most senior enlisted leader in the Navy, seems to have received little press coverage. But it’s a big deal. He was under IG investigation for having a toxic work environment, and the resignation is seen by many as acknowledging that the charges are at least partially true. We now have a vacant MCPON seat, the first time in the positions 50+ year history.

Should we even bother filling it?

Continue reading “Why exactly do we have a MCPON?”

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) President and CEO Stephen Hayes CCA Chairman of the Board of Directors and Symbion Power CEO Paul Hinks February 2, 2016

President Trump has been making news with desire to close trade gaps with China, Europe, Mexico and Canada, attempting to counter trade practices that make it significantly more difficult to export to these countries and have resulted in a significant trade gap with the world. While we keep focusing on these big countries, I think we’re missing opportunities that are presenting themselves in Africa.

Continue reading “Since we’re talking trade, let’s talk about Africa”

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – In my post last week I attempted to take you inside the Common Core classroom, to pull back the curtain and show the complete and utter loss of autonomy and creativity teachers have experienced under this program to the point that teachers are not even allowed to use their own words; we work from scripts, prepared slides, and prepared teacher notes.

From my post last week:

In this way, theory goes, every child across the district gets the same lesson on the same day in the same way.  There are no “rock star” teachers who have an unfair advantage over less capable teachers.  The playing field is leveled, and this helps measure how effective these lessons are in meeting the criteria for standardized testing.

There are many problems with this approach to teaching, only one of which is that every student is taught in the exact same way.  All that training we received on diversified learning styles was apparently hogwash.

Another problem is that some teachers are afraid to speak out for fear of recriminations, so we don’t really know how bad this really is.  Some of us just close our door and teach the way we know students learn.  We use our own words and our own activities developed with specific student needs in mind.  Then when the test scores come back, and they are wonderful, it looks like Common Core is working.

Let’s restate that: teachers are silently rebelling against this boring drivel and teaching as they were trained, and they can’t speak out for fear of getting in trouble.

Other teachers are just leaving the profession.  The nationwide teacher shortage is epic.

Consider this teacher from Georgia; explaining why she left the classroom she writes:

You start talking to teachers, trying to figure out where their fire for education has gone – why they appear as robots, or automatons, simply going through the motions. What has happened? You dig deeper and learn of prescribed and scripted curriculum; teachers are expected to be at the same point in the same lesson every day. For transient students that idea seems based in reason, but the practice has been detrimental to teachers.

You learn of the pressure felt by both teachers and students to perform well on standardized tests. You learn of the autonomy stolen from teachers to make any decision beyond a seating chart in their room. You learn of the complete lack of empowerment (and active process of disempowerment) of the teachers and then learn this is a widespread issue. Teachers across the country are begging for a shift away from this robotic sort of teaching.

Some are leaving the field. I did, and, while I ultimately found myself working toward my doctorate, I knew the k-12 space was no longer an option as I refuse to leave my brain on the sidelines and act as a robot. Feeling disempowered was a nonnegotiable for me and for many educators.

It’s all about the test.

When did it quit being about the students?

Michael Deshotels at Louisiana Educator writes:

Remember the term academic freedom? This is an almost forgotten concept in today’s world of test teaching and scripted learning. But academic freedom has allowed the American education system to foster creativity in both teachers and students for many years before this recent trend of standardized education. It was an education system that has made the U.S. the world leader in scientific achievement, literature, and art. It is not a good idea to abandon academic freedom in hopes of small increases in standardized test score.

As a veteran educator it hurts me to see this happening to students.  I don’t teach English: I teach kids, and I care deeply about my students.  To see their eyes glaze over when the slides come up and the informational texts come out, when the script is read, is so disheartening.  So yes, I’m that teacher that goes off script. But I’m also speaking out.  Tentatively and yes, with some fear.  I love my job and don’t want to lose it.

At this point I can only hope that this fad goes the way of all of the others that I’ve seen in my twenty-three years.  These programs hang around for five years or so and then we reinvent the wheel and do something else.  I hope I can survive this one.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport. She is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

I really liked Anthony Bourdain’s shows. And while I don’t know Kate Spade, I didn’t like the news that she also committed suicide.

But I’ve written before on suicide (here, if you’d like an older article), and I’ve been watching young people over the last ten years. I honestly don’t think it’s going to get any better in the short term.

Continue reading “Fiddling with the edges of suicide”

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT —  I have just completed year twenty-three as a teacher of sophomore English.  I’ve been there long enough that people are starting to ask, “How many more years do you have left?”, wondering if I am planning retirement one of these days.  I have always said that I would stay as long as I enjoyed my job, my kids, and my mission.

But let me tell you, teaching today is not what teaching was when I started.  Back in the good old days teachers had autonomy in the classroom: as long as you followed the curriculum and taught the mandated standards for your subject area, you were free to achieve that however best suited the needs of your students.  I’ve been to hundreds of workshops and training days where we learned that all students learn differently and we learned how best to reach all types of learners.

Apparently the game has changed.

Now, all kids learn the same way from the same script from the same pre-fabricated slides and they all read the same text on the same day across the district.

The Honors kids are taught the exact same material as the remedial learners.

As a veteran educator who has worked hard to bring life and creativity into my classroom, this new method has been a real challenge for me. Common Core has absolutely stripped my classroom of the fun things we used to do.  No more classroom debates over the guilt or innocence of the boy in Twelve Angry Men; no more mock trials of various literary characters, no more novel studies, no more poetry slams.  Now, we read “chunks of text” and highlight them.  We annotate.  We fill in graphic organizers.  We look at dull slides.

Teaching has always been a passion and it seems to me that the best teachers are those that inspire and mentor.  It is about so much more than just the material in the textbook.  Teaching is about building relationships; a child will learn more from a teacher if there is a connection made between them.  If that child knows that the teacher cares about him and is interested in his success, he will learn. Teachers develop these relationships in part through meaningful lessons developed with the needs and interests of their students in mind as well as through individual conversations with students.

This common bond is harder to develop with scripted lessons.

On my own blog, I wrote an end-of-the-school year post in which I lamented how scripted lessons have changed my classroom and I received several inquiries about the scripted lessons that Louisiana ELA teachers are now mandated to use.  In my post last week I wrote:

[The year] began with a series of workshops and in-services throughout the summer last year which served to introduce us to a drastically new curriculum which we were mandated to implement “with fidelity” this year. It was so radically different from what we have been doing that this was a terribly stressful objective to me.

I’m “old school” in many ways and teaching without a textbook and following a script has been hard for me. I am also a rule follower and so while I wanted to follow my mandate, I’ll admit publicly right now that I did not always follow the script. I tried. We are on block schedule and so our academic year is made up of two semesters: I have one group of students from August through December, and then new ones from January through May.

First semester I tried really hard to do that first unit as prescribed. It took less than two weeks for the light in my students’ eyes to go out and for them to start eyeing me with dread. I stuck with it and supplemented more engaging lessons where I could while teaching all the same standards. Second semester it was much the same. I was a little more comfortable with the new curriculum, but it is still mind numbing and dull. Nothing but annotation, graphic organizers, and Cornell Notes. All day, every day.

I’ve always been under the (perhaps misguided) belief that parents would not be pleased with the scripted classroom.  “If only they really knew!” I would tell myself.  I have railed and ranted about Common Core but it seems that either nobody is listening or else that nobody has the power to change it.  Or maybe people just like it.  Whatever the case, this post is just one more attempt to pull back the curtain of the classroom and show people what the typical day looks like in a scripted, Common Core classroom.

A few years ago a group of Louisiana educators came together to write a new ELA curriculum designed to help students be successful on the high stakes end-of-course tests:

[Meredith] Starks is one of the more than 75 teachers who have been selected by the Louisiana education department to write an English/language arts curriculum. While most states using the Common Core State Standards tend to look to commercial publishers for standards-based curricula, Louisiana educators couldn’t find material that fully and coherently represented the now 7-year-old ELA standards.

“We just decided … there wasn’t anything on the market good enough for our teachers,” said Rebecca Kockler, the assistant superintendent of academic content at the state education department. And who better to fill that void than actual teachers?

The state started developing its ELA curricula, called “guidebooks,” in 2012, and the first iteration was published in April 2014. Louisiana has since revised its own standards, which are based on the common core, and revamped the guidebooks to give teachers more resources.

These Guidebooks are what we are now using in lieu of traditional textbooks in our classrooms; they are comprised of “readers” which are copies of material bound together which are non-consumable and serve as a sort of textbook.  Students also receive a consumable packet with each of the four units and these are copies of graphic organizers, text passages, speeches, charts, etc. that students can write on and annotate as required.  These are reproduced and distributed each semester to students.

Teachers work from scripted Teacher Notes and prepared slides which we are instructed to follow “with fidelity” so that every student in every classroom gets the same text on the same day in the same way.

That’s what I mean by scripted lessons.

As an example, let’s just walk through a typical lesson in tenth grade English.

Unit 1 is on Rhetoric in grade ten and Unit 1, Lesson 1 goes like this:

After verbally introducing the unit, this is slide 3 in which the teacher introduces the unit objectives to the students:

With the unaltered slide displayed, the teacher is to say:

“Throughout this unit we will read texts that use language to achieve a purpose. At the end of the unit, you will be asked to select one of the texts and write an essay about how that text uses language to achieve a purpose. You will also research a topic of your choosing and write a speech about that topic. Finally, you will demonstrate your ability to analyze the language of a new text. To do this, we will need to study the specific choices authors make in order to achieve their purpose and advance their argument. We will read speeches, essays, and informational texts.”

The teacher is then directed to distribute handouts, highlighters, and Reader Response Journals. It’s a lot of paper.  Students also receive a copy of “What is Rhetoric” by Gideon Burton.

The teacher reads the text to students while students follow along.  This is supposed to take about two minutes.

Then with the above slide displayed, the teacher directs students to read the text independently and annotate.

The teacher notes at this point look like this:

Suggested Pacing: ~ 7 minutes  Directions: Have students read the first section of the text again, independently. Instruct them to use a yellow highlighter to mark “central ideas” and green highlighter to mark “supporting details.”
Guiding Questions and Prompts:  Say, “ Central ideas are main ideas. They are what the reader should remember after studying the text. They are usually followed by details that provide support. What is the central idea of this section?
Say, “Supporting details are specific pieces of information that support the central idea. They can provide explanations and/or examples of the central idea.” What details does the author use to develop the central idea?
Student Look-Fors: Students should indicate that a big idea is an important part of the text.
Access the annotated exemplar in the Additional Materials section. Be absolutely sure students understand what a big idea is before beginning the task.
Students should re-read the text independently, marking the big ideas of the text with their yellow highlighter.

Students are directed to take out their “Vocabulary Log,” write down “rhetoric” and define it.

The teacher notes  look like this.

Suggested Pacing: ~ 12 minutes Directions: Be sure students have access to dictionaries. Have students retrieve the vocabulary log they received at the beginning of class.
Say “You will add to this log throughout the unit. It is very important that you keep track of this handout.”
Select a student to read the sentence in grey, using an established class procedure.
Place a blank handout under the document camera.
Fill in the word “rhetoric” and prompt the students to do the same.
 Ask: “What part of speech is the word rhetoric?”
Prompt the students to look up a concise definition for the word “rhetoric”.
Fill in the definition under the document camera as students follow along.
Ask students to locate a synonym, antonym, and/or related word for “rhetoric”.
Fill in the fourth column under the document camera as students follow along.
Have students record the source sentence from the slide.
Prompt students to turn-and-talk for 30 seconds to a partner about their understanding of the term “rhetoric.”
Keep time. Have partners switch. Monitor the room during the turn-and-talk, checking for understanding.
 Guiding Questions and Prompts: In your own words, what is “rhetoric?”
Turn-and talk to a partner for 30 seconds.
Student Look-Fors: Access a partially completed vocabulary log under the Additional Materials tab. Students should fill out the first row of the vocabulary log along with you.
Rhetoric is a noun.  Be sure to clarify what you mean by “concise”
Not all words have synonyms, antonyms, and word families, but each word has at least one of the three.
Refer to the partially completed handout for guidance for each word throughout the unit. Students should copy the source sentence directly from the slide, including the citation.
Additional Notes: Consider collecting the logs and storing them in the classroom to prevent student loss. You could also have the students store the log in their class folder, if that fits in your daily class routine. Develop a system for soliciting individual student feedback early and use it often (i.e. a cold-call system).
Then the student is directed to turn to his partner and talk about the word “rhetoric.”

Following this, students are then directed back to the text and their annotations and the teacher is directed to have the students write a “summary statement”:

Ask: “ What is the most important information in this section of the text?”
Ask: “How can we boil that down to one statement?”
Have students write their summary statement in their RRJ. Then, model a concise summary statement under the document camera or on the whiteboard.
Ask the guiding questions below.
Guiding Questions and Prompts:
“What makes my model summary statement good?”
“Does your model have the same qualities?”
Student Look-Fors: Students should indicate that the definition of rhetoric is the most important information in this section. Students should then write a practice summary statement in the reading response section of their RRJ. Model summary statement: “Rhetoric is the study of the effective use of language in one’s own writing and in the writing of others.”

With this new slide displayed, the teacher then directs students to revise their summary statement.

Following that, the teacher verbally recaps what students should have learned in the lesson and then she moves on to lesson two.

Unit 1, Lesson 1 is comprised of eleven slides that must be displayed as the teacher works through the lesson.  In districts on a 90-minute block, two lessons are to be completed each day.

The teacher can vary slightly from the script but must follow the lesson with fidelity.

In Lesson Two, students read the same text again, “What is Rhetoric,” and highlight in multiple colors to identify main ideas and supporting details.

That’s what a scripted lesson looks like.  They are literally that: scripted.  Teachers have a printed stack of these teacher notes which are to be annotated before presenting each lesson and which she can produce to supervisors upon request.  The lesson number and standards must be visible to students on the board each day as well as the objective.

In this way, theory goes, every child across the district gets the same lesson on the same day in the same way.  There are no “rock star” teachers who have an unfair advantage over less capable teachers.  The playing field is leveled and this helps measure how effective these lessons are in meeting the criteria for standardized testing.

The Guidebooks are on the Louisiana DOE website and most of the graphic organizers and their completed versions can be found there by both parents and students.  It’s important that students do not have their cellphones in use in class or they can just look up the answers and copy them down; teachers must monitor this.

Scripted lessons have pros and cons.  Many teachers bristle at the loss of their own creativity and autonomy; many feel that scripted lessons strip the passion from teaching and focus too much on the test while others are relieved at not having to write lesson plans or create their own lessons. Districts know exactly what is happening in each classroom on any given day and feel that a prepared curriculum is one way to ensure all necessary standards are taught.

However you feel about scripted lessons and the prepared curriculum, parents should at least know what it is and how their child is being taught.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

US Navy 080203-N-0411D-019 A student at the Navy Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school breaks birch bark to start a fire, from Wikipedia

A friend of mine that was ordained last year happened to be passing through the area, so I invited him to join my family for dinner. He’s visited us before, and every time he does my kids and wife line up questions galore about Catholicism, what they hear in school, and other topics. After the kids went to bed, I asked Father what the latest challenge he’s had with things the Pope says.

Plenty of people like and don’t like Pope Francis, but similar to President Trump, I think he gets misquoted a lot. Anytime I have non-Catholic friends gleefully tell me they heard the Pope support homosexual unions, or abortion, or some other crazy thing, I normally do a bit of digging first before finding that they referenced a CNN article instead of actually reading source documentation.

Continue reading “On being uncomfortable”