By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  over the next several weeks, kids across the nation are going to be subjected to long, grueling, standardized tests to prove that they are learning and that teachers are doing their job.

In Louisiana, this is the schedule I indicated about a month ago:

PARCC Phase 1: (Grades 3-8) March 16-20  (English and Math)

iLeap/Leap: (Grades 3-8) April 14-15 (Science and Social Studies)

PARCC Phase 2: (Grades 3-8) May 4-8 (English and Math)

EOC for ELA and Math (Grades 6-12) begins in April and covers English, Science, Math, Social Studies.  Most of these are two day tests.  In some cases, three days.

Then, if you’re going to take the ACT, there are dates for that too, depending on which series you take:  EXPLORE for Grades 8 and 9, PLAN for Grade 10, and ACT for grade 11.  In most school districts, these tests are mandatory.

This schedule changes daily. In my particular school, they’ve also adding a WorkKeys test for grade 11 and the CLEP test, and students in AP classes will be taking various AP tests.

It’s a seriously insane amount of testing.

The Opt-out movement is growing across the nation; this could be in part due to growing frustration with Common Core but also frustration with the growing number of tests kids have to take.  It is accountability run amok.

The New York Times took a look at the opt-out movement primarily as related to the New Jersey area, but parents are frustrated across the country.

In Louisiana the whole issue is a hot mess:

A new wrinkle for this year is that no one outside of Louisiana State Superintendent John White and his close circle know what test kids will be taking.  White has claimed at different times our children will be taking a PARCC or PARCC-like test.  (PARCC is one of two major testing Consortiums tapped and funded by US DOE to develop Common Core tests for the States.)  However Governor Bobby Jindal and his DOA intervened in a contract dispute and declared the way it was approved invalid and have asserted they will not pay for PARCC with State funds.  This has led to several lawsuits brought by education Reform proponents and parents groups as well as the Governor’s office and BESE.

Part of the objection to these tests is that Common Core was implemented across the board.  Kids in Algebra I, for example, are going to be tested on Common Core style questions when that’s not the way they were taught.  Even the EOC (End of Course test) which Louisiana uses has been redesigned to reflect PARCC – type questions and Common Core skills.  So, given this, it’s easy for me to see why a parent might not want to subject a child to this.

I’ve been an educator for 18 years and I love teaching kids, but when I look at our testing schedule and I look at how many classroom hours are given over to testing, test prep, and holding time while other student groups test, it’s clear that something is out of sync.

At any rate, it’s-a-comin’, so as parents you must decide if your child is going to be subjected to that or if you’re going to opt-out.

Spring testing season is here.

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Can we just talk about the Oscars for a moment?  I watched the broadcast sporadically; Downton Abbey took precedence and I didn’t want to watch it on delay.

But, Lady Gaga!   Lady Gaga just killed it last night with her Sound of Music medley.  Never having been a Gaga fan (with the exception of You and I) you could have blown me over last night when she came out looking angelic in a long white dress that looked suitable for a high school prom.  She began to sing and I kept waiting for her to rip off her skirt and break into a bizarre rendition of The Lonely Goatherd, but it never happened.  Her performance was just stunning and I was transfixed.

Even better:  Julie Andrews came on stage after the performance and was genuinely appreciative of the tribute, saying it warmed her heart.  Add “Dear Lady Gaga” to the list of things you never thought you’d hear from Julie Andrews.

In this day of AutoTune manufactured celebrities, and with her history of the bizarre, I was amazed.  Color me enlightened.  Here’s the YouTube clip:  it was just beautiful.

As to the rest of the broadcast (what I saw of it), it was more of the same pandering and self-promoting that Hollywood is known for. It was the usual over-blown, over long, self congratulating, liberal mash of pablum.

I only had two dogs in the fight last night:  I’d seen Whiplash (loved it) and Birdman (oddly, I liked it, too).  I haven’t made it to American Sniper yet, but certainly will.

Tara Kyle was there, carrying Chris Kyle’s dog tags in her hand; she was lovely.  A true class act.  Robin Roberts interviewed her on the red carpet and Mrs. Kyle was the epitome of class.  Gracious and kind. American Sniper was snubbed at the Oscars last night, but be honest:  did we really expect better?

And speaking of snubs, did the Academy snub Joan Rivers by leaving her out of the In Memorium segment?  After years of doing the red carpet segment with daughter Melissa, didn’t Joan at least deserve mention?  Some on Twitter last night were saying that Joan wasn’t a member of the Academy, but was Gabriel Garcia Marquez?  The Academy’s statement this morning on the matter:

It reads: “Joan Rivers is among the many worthy artists and filmmakers we were unfortunately unable to feature in the In Memoriam segment of this year’s Oscar show. She is, however, included in our In Memoriam gallery on Oscar.com.”

It was a snub.

One highlight of the night was the acceptance speech by Supporting Actor winner J.K. Simmons in which he said:

And if i may, call your mom. Everybody — i’m told there’s like a billion people or so. Call your mom, call your dad. If you are lucky enough to have a parent or two alive on this planet, call them.  Don’t text, don’t e-mail.  Call them on the phone. Tell them you love them and thank them and will be to them for as long as they want to talk to you.

Amen to that.

And for me, between Gaga, Tara Kyle, and J.K. Simmons, those were the only redeeming moments of the Academy Awards.  What an odd trio.

And there ends my deep reflection on the Oscars.

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Common Core has claimed another casualty, driving yet another fine teacher into a different profession.  Stacie Starr (be careful if you Google that name) is a sixteen year veteran and is an “Intervention Specialist” in Elyria, Ohio.  She deals primarily with special education students but also with any student struggling in a subject.  Starr won the Live With Kelly and Michael Top Teacher Contest for 2014, earning a new scoreboard for her school, an 8-day trip to the Bahamas, and a 2014 Ford Escape for her efforts.  In her profile video for the contest, her love of teaching and her students is evident.

But when Starr accepted her grand prize last week, she announced her intention to leave teaching at the end of this year because of excessive standardized testing related to Common Core:

Starr became dismayed when she reviewed practice tests for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, with her ninth grade students.

“Try them yourself,” Starr said.

The reading portion of the test is a speech by Robert Oppenheimer on atomic bombs. Starr says the difficulty of reading is ranked at the college level.

“I’m a special ed teacher,” Starr said. “A lot of my students read at the fifth grade level. They’re expected to read at the ninth grade level, when it’s clearly college level. I don’t know how they can be expected to pass this.

Part of her concern is that the rules are still changing even as testing is set to begin.  It comes down to what many of us have been saying all along: the standards might be acceptable but the implementation has been a total failure.

Yet with a stellar 16-year career under her belt, Starr said the new testing culture is killing education.

“I can’t do it anymore, not in this ‘drill ‘em and kill ‘em’ atmosphere,” she said. “I don’t think anyone understands that in this environment if your child cannot quickly grasp material, study like a robot and pass all of these tests, they will not survive.”

The standing-room-only audience at the Elyria Public Library’s West River Road North branch was shocked. Starr fought back tears as she explained her life as a teacher.

The tests are developmentally inappropriate for typical students and torture for those with special needs, she said. And, even an individual education plan is not enough to shield students from the rigors of state expectations.

“I have faith in my students, but my students are reading at sometimes a fourth- and fifth-grade reading level,” she said. “Each and every day, I have to look in my students’ eyes and tell them I can’t help them because the state has decided they have to prove what they know.”

Starr isn’t the first teacher to leave the classroom because of Common Core; here are five more and certainly there are more.

In many states parents are opting their kids out of testing but in Louisiana at least, that move comes with punitive damage for the school.  For every child that opts out of testing, the school receives a grade of zero which in turn lowers the school performance score.  This has prompted at least fourteen school districts in our state to request a waiver from the punitive measure.  The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will discuss whether these waivers will be granted or not in March (four members of this panel requested a special meeting to settle this, but the president declined, saying there is “no need.”) The BESE board will take this matter up just one week before PARCC testing begins.

Clearly we are still making up the rules as we go, which is one reason teachers like Stacie Starr are frustrated.  All across the country teachers, parents, and politicians are clamoring for local school boards to regain control of testing.  Everyone recognizes the need for standards and accountability but not at the expense of our children who are increasingly frustrated and demoralized over the Common Core gobbled-gook.

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Our humble little burg has made national news; as it turns out, big government does not approve of the Little Free Library.

The little library controversy began (in Shreveport, at least), a couple of weeks ago when Ricky and Teresa Edgerton received a cease and desist order from the Metropolitan Planning Commission zoning division who advised that their Little Free Library was in violation of a zoning ordinance regarding commercial activity.  As most of us realize, of course, there is no “commerce” involved with a Little Free Library.

The premise of the Little Free Library is “take a book, leave a book.”  That’s all there is to it.  These units have popped up all over the country; some are “official” Little Free Libraries, and some are simply neighborhood driven.  Official Little Free Library owners are “stewards” who either pay a charter fee or purchase their unit from the Little Free Library organization.  You can do that, or you can just build one yourself or put an old newspaper box outside your house.  There is one near my house, for example: an old newspaper box refurbished, painted, and now serving as a neighborhood book swap.

Apparently someone complained about the Edgerton’s library and thus the MPC got involved.  Via The Shreveport Times:

MPC Board chairman Lea Desmarteau addressed the matter in a message posted to her Facebook page.

“Our current zoning ordinances are antiquated, therefore unfortunately lead to these types of situations. However, there is a silver lining. The MPC is in the process of a massive rewrite of these antiquated codes and ordinances,” she wrote. This has not been done since the 1950s, she said.

The MPC seems to be trying to work out the problem.  Meanwhile, the story went viral on Facebook and last week the controversy appeared in an L.A. Times article.  In Los Angeles a little library owner was told to remove his unit because it was “an obstruction.”

There was a zoning controversy in Kansas City last year.

Nebraska has wrestled with the issue.

So has Wisconsin.

And now Shreveport.

What in the world do these people have against free books?  And community building?  What mean-spirited person would complain about such a thing?

In Shreveport, the support for the library has been positive.  The Little Free Library Shreveport community has printed signs that say “I support The Little Free Library” which people are placing in their yards.  There’s a petition circulating to be presented to the Shreveport City Council this week which now has over 2,000 signatures.  The number of little libraries has increased significantly since the controversy.  The Shreveport Times posted an editorial:  “Why Pick on the Little Free Libraries?”

From what I can tell, these units are small, inoffensive, and usually kind of cute.  They encourage both kids and adults in neighborhoods to read and to share books.  They foster a sense of community in these neighborhoods.  I’ve never seen anything offensive in my local unit. So, what’s the problem?

Seems like a win-win to me.

 Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport

SHREVEPORT – Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal issued an executive order this week in which he urges the head governing board over education to allow parents to opt-out of PARCC state testing for their children this spring.  And that’s as far as it went.

Via NOLA:

Gov. Bobby Jindal on Friday urged Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to allow alternatives to the Common Core-aligned test that public schools are planning to use this spring. Jindal, who opposes the national Common Core academic standards, has no legal authority of the school board, so he used an executive order to issue a strong suggestion for testing alternatives, rather than a requirement for other assessment options.

“His executive order is worth only the paper it is written on,” said Chas Roemer, president of the school board and a Common Core supporter.

You will recall, Governor Jindal was once a full supporter of Common Core, helped push the standards through, and in touting the standards, he said “Adopting the Common Core State Standards, which will raise expectations for every child.”   (In that same speech he also praised the new Value Added Teacher Assessment Program which has been one cluster after another, bringing teacher morale to new lows statewide.)

I’m not faulting Jindal for his reversal on Common Core.  We all make mistakes and correcting those mistakes is a fully rational thing to try to do.  But this one has been costly for Louisiana, both financially and by all measurements of stress and morale on our children and teachers.

This spring, children in Louisiana, as in other states, will undergo days and days of testing; in preparation for that, they will also spend weeks with practice tests, test prep, and intensive boot camp remediation for some.  Testing dates in Louisiana look something like this:

PARCC Phase 1: (Grades 3-8) March 16-20  (English and Math)

iLeap/Leap: (Grades 3-8) April 14-15 (Science and Social Studies)

PARCC Phase 2: (Grades 3-8) May 4-8 (English and Math)

EOC for ELA and Math (Grades 6-12) begins in April and covers English, Science, Math, Social Studies.  Most of these are two day tests.  In some cases, three days.

Then, if you’re going to take the ACT, there are dates for that too, depending on which series you take:  EXPLORE for Grades 8 and 9, PLAN for Grade 10, and ACT for grade 11.  In most school districts, these tests are mandatory.

It varies by grade, and which test which grade must take, but let’s just agree that it is a lot of testing.  The calendar for Louisiana testing can be found here.

Who in the world could fault a parent for opting out of some of this?

I talked to a friend the other day who teaches at a middle school in Shreveport; she was reprimanded by her principal for teaching the prescribed curriculum and not focusing enough on test prep and practice test questions in her classroom.  His concern was that low student scores on the standardized tests will reflect poorly on the school and also on him.

What in the world has education come to?

Are we teaching kids to take tests or to think critically?  Can it be one in the same?  Are we killing the love of learning for our kids?  Putting too much stress and pressure on them?

Check the test schedules in your own state, and check the opt out policies.  It might be worthwhile.

 

 

Side note:  I blogged in this space some time ago about a local animal cruelty case in Shreveport where a dog, Braveheart, was found starved nearly to death in a storage locker at the peak of summer heat in Louisiana.  That case went to trial last week.  If you’re interested, here’s a wrap-up of that trial and verdict.

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

 

SHREVEPORT – The “Perfect Headline of the Week Award” goes to NOLA for their article about Gov. Bobby Jindal’s prayer rally:

Bobby Jindal’s prayer rally brings out Louisianians’ complicated feelings about the governor

Yes, it sure has.

Look, I’ve done my fair share of Jindal-bashing.  He’s done some things right and some things really poorly.  Like they said, it’s complicated.

This prayer rally business is a perfect example of how Jindal brings out the best and the worst in us.   I am never going to argue against more prayer for our nation and our society as a while.  No, sir.  I believe that’s the premise upon which our nation was founded.  But why is the governor holding a prayer rally on the LSU campus?

Here’s the thing:  The prayer rally yesterday at LSU drew several hundred protesters and they were upset about a variety of things, one of which concerns Jindal’s cuts to higher education which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.  Jindal looks first at higher ed anytime he needs to trim the budget.  So how dare he use the facilities at LSU to host his prayer rally, which some see as a launching, or at least posturing for, his presidential campaign!:

It was outrageous for the governor to throw a prayer rally on LSU’s campus — an event seemingly aimed at raising his national profile — while simultaneously asking for state higher education to absorb at least $300 million in budget cuts next year, they said.

“He is using it to launch a presidential campaign. … We are subsidizing his move on to national office on the backs of our students,” said Kent Filbel, a LSU professor who attended the protest in his academic robes.

Indeed, the overarching complaint heard about Jindal from legislators and constituents alike is that he focuses too much on national issues and too little on state problems.

The governor’s press office has sent out numerous emails about Jindal’s thoughts on radical Islam and federal abortion bills over the past two weeks. But they have yet to send out a single release regarding the troubling state budget shortfall, which currently totals $1.4 billion and threatens to send public colleges and universities off a financial cliff.

In truth, Jindal has been posturing for a presidential run for the past several years; one of the top complaints about him has been that he’s never in the state.  His frequent absences even gave rise to a “Where is Bobby?” cottage industry of t-shirts and coffee mugs along the lines of “Where is Waldo?”

But again, it’s complicated; Jindal has done some things for which he has won much admiration in Louisiana like his fight for the coast after the BP oil spill.  The Obama administration twiddled their thumbs and stalled around while the giant oil slick slid toward the Louisiana coast, killed the seafood industry (which is just now beginning to rebound), put hundreds of related small businesses out of business, appointed an “Oil Spill Czar” and put down a moratorium on drilling in the Gulf.  Jindal was rightly outraged by it all and fought like a mad-dog for berms, booms, and drilling.  Of course, Politico thought Bobby was posturing then, too, but most of us down here didn’t see it that way.  We were proud of him, then.

As far as the prayer rally goes, Jindal may have been posturing with that one.  Well, yes, he probably was.  Not that he doesn’t believe in what he said, or that he’s not a believer in Christian prayer – I think he does and he is.  But the whole affair seems staged to draw the most possible attention.  Many of the protesters saw his use of the American Family Association to bankroll the event as a stick in the eye of liberal causes.

Maybe it was.

So what?

Jindal even tried to merge the prayer rally with a Right to Life event in Baton Rouge, a move that failed to gain support of the Catholic Church who also saw the rally as political posturing:

Still, LSU academics aren’t the only ones bothered by Jindal’s national ambitions. The governor tried to orchestrate a merger between the Right to Life march — one of the anti-abortion movement’s largest annual events in Louisiana — and The Response on Saturday, a move which the Catholic Church rejected. Louisiana’s bishops weren’t interested in attending Jindal’s prayer rally, even though the governor identifies as Catholic and attends mass every Sunday.

“The event was viewed more as an evangelical event with a political tone to it, and the bishops don’t participate in such events,” said Rob Tasman, executive director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Jindal insisted that The Response was not connected to his presidential ambitions.

“Today is not a political event. It’s a religious event. It’s not a political event,” Jindal said in an interview.

The problem is, most people saw it that way.  Optics.

Posturing.  Posing.  Positioning.  People are tired of that.

Note to politicians:  Say what you mean, mean what you say, be up front about your intentions, and then let the people decide.

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT — My 23-year old son and I have begun our Oscar watch.

This is an annual tradition for us that we actually began only a couple of years ago. Each year, after the Golden Globe and Oscar nominations come out, we begin watching all the nominated movies we can squeeze in, starting with the Best Picture nominees and then on down the list.  This has turned in to a really fun tradition but let me just say that there were parts in The Wolf of Wall Street that were really awkward watching with your kid, even if he was 22-years old at the time.  At any rate, I do treasure the time we spend together watching the movies and the hours after discussing each one.

And I know, Hollywood is the liberal devil, but sometimes escapism is actually not a bad thing.

This week we hit our first movie of the season:  Whiplash and so here I offer a sort of brief review (with no spoilers!)

I loved this movie.  I knew I would love the soundtrack:  the story line revolves around a music student working to earn a spot as a drummer in a jazz band at a Julliard-type school in the city.  His idol is Buddy Rich.  So, the soundtrack is amazing.

The theme turns on how far must you drive yourself for success?  To the brink of insanity?  Death?  Is greatness only achieved at great cost?  At what point does one simply quit and back away in the name of self-preservation?  What is the responsibility of a teacher and mentor?  How hard do you push?  Do only the strong survive?  At what price greatness?

J. K. Simmons plays the teacher Terence Fletcher; you may know him from Juno or from Law and Order (he was Dr. Skoda). He’s up for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his work in this film while the movie is up for Best Film (among other Oscar nods). Simmons has a great face for this role; it’s all angular and edgy – full of unspoken expression.  This has got to be the role of his lifetime.

Because I don’t want to reveal any secrets — and don’t Google too many reviews because several have spoilers – I will stop here, but don’t go see this movie to relax because it’s intense from beginning to end.  It will pull at a range of emotions and leave you with both questions, answers, and a great beat drumming through your head.

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is raising the ire of higher education officials as he once again takes aim at higher education to balance the state’s budget.

Governor Jindal’s budget proposal is due at the end of February and one of the options he’s said to be considering right now is stripping at least $300 million (some say $371 million) from Louisiana’s higher education system.  This doesn’t sit well given the fact that he’s already cut that system to bare bones as it is.

Louisiana is facing a budget shortfall of about $1.4 billion dollars for next year, due in part to dicey budget techniques employed in the past (property sales and other one-time allocations), dropping oil prices, the dry-up of federal disaster funding after a series of hurricanes, and an increase in state services, among other things.

The governor is looking to make across the board cuts but for higher ed.; this is becoming an old and tiresome step.  Since 2008, higher education has already been cut by $700 million:

State financing for higher education in Louisiana has been cut by about $700 million since 2008, with only part of that offset by tuition increases on students.

With a more than 34 percent reduction over five years, no other state in the nation has cut higher education financing more than Louisiana, according to Grapevine, which tracks state support for colleges and is overseen by Illinois State University’s Center for the Study of Education Policy.

Louisiana House Speaker Chuck Kleckley vows to fight Jindal’s proposal and says he will not support or vote for such a proposal – a feeling shared among many legislators throughout the state.

Meanwhile, President Obama is promoting free community college for all – if the states can’t pay for what we already have, how can we pay for another unfunded entitlement program?  Free college?  Let’s get them free cars and houses, too!  Why not?

There are people who watch these things closely in Louisiana and believe that part of the problem is the “surrealism of Louisiana’s budget cuts”; he does this periodically but over the past calendar year it has been especially bizarre. Jindal has issue a series of hiring and expenditure freezes which have been arbitrarily applied.  However, we do see that he’s not just cutting higher ed., there’s also juvenile services, veterans affairs, the department of corrections in the list.

All in all, it would seem that Louisiana’s fiscal mess needs a complete overhaul, but continuing to put so much of the burden on the back on higher education doesn’t seem to be the answer.

Pat Austin also blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT — Just the headline at Politico is enough to make me giddy:

The Plot to overhaul No Child Left Behind:  The Republican plan could dramatically roll back the federal role in education.

Oh, I’m no fan of NCLB, to be sure, but Common Core is even worse.  What I like about this headline is the “roll back the federal role in education” part.  Both NCLB and Common Core have the federal government way too far into state matters of education.

But, it seems to me that if Republicans can give states a more viable option to Common Core, those states that want to opt out of it would then have a choice.

Jazz Shaw at Hot Air considers the likelihood of a bill getting through Congress:

The first question which jumps to mind is whether or not the GOP can even pass such reforms and, if so, would Barack Obama go along with it. The new Senate GOP majority will only need a handful of Democrats to bring it to a vote and the system has become so poisonous on the local level in many states that it shouldn’t be much of an issue. But will Obama sign it?

Probably not, but I’m an optimist so let’s say he does.  Then states might have an option to Common Core; well, wait.  For that reason alone, Obama probably won’t sign an education bill.  I’m also a realist.

Maybe the answer is to rewrite Common Core; the biggest problem with Common Core has been its implementation.  It should have had a rollout over several years, beginning in the lower grades and then following those students up to high school.  As a veteran teacher of eighteen years, I’ve watched my students struggle with the new PARCC alignment questions and shut down in frustration.  The stories about the math curriculum in particular have been tragic.

Another problem with Common Core has been PARCC itself; Pearson and Bill Gates:  what could go wrong?

But, my biggest problem with Common Core has been the assumption that every child begins on the same page and can meet the same academic benchmarks across the board, and if they don’t, the teacher is the failure, not the child.  There is certainly some merit to the tenet that certain basics should be met across the country at a certain level; that’s common sense.  But to assume that say, an inner city tenth grader who reads on a 3rd grade level, lives in a dilapidated home with no computer access, one parent who has to work the night shift just to keep the electricity on, and the child’s basic diet is Ramen noodles from the Circle K – to assume that child begins on the same level as the student with two college educated parents in a fine two-story home in the best part of town, who attends a magnet school with little discipline issues, who has a laptop and an iPad for school work, who has proper meals at proper times, well, that’s just naïve.

You have to be able to read before you can write a twelve page analytical research paper.

Can that inner city child achieve?  Of course he can. Look at Ben Carson.  But Common Core assumes they are all level right now.

The bottom line is that states, and local districts, need options, not a one-size-fits all program.  If the Republicans can come up with a plan that offers that, and get it passed, if they can come up with options from which districts can choose while still keeping high standards and accountability, then go for it.  I’m all in.

 

 Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

 

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT — I remember as a child sitting in my elementary school classroom as the teacher wheeled a huge cart with a little 19″ color television on it into the room.  Watching television at school?  It was a real novelty and we were all spellbound; what we watched was real time news footage of the Apollo 11 mission.  It fascinated me and made me feel very small.

When I was in college, a small group of us drove from north Louisiana to Cocoa Beach, Florida, to watch the launch of, I think the Venus Orbiter.  Looking back, I’m not sure now which launch we saw; all I really remember was watching that rocket soar off into space.  Thrilling!

Many years later, as an adult with a job, I can remember the entire office coming to a stop as we all learned the tragic fate of the Challenger.  We watched the replay on the news over, and over, and over.  It was awful.

Growing up with a fascination for the space program, but academically terrible in math and science, my space fascination has been relegated to the literary end; The Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam is a much thumbed favorite of mine and the ensuing film, October Sky, is on my DVD shelf, among other space classics.  I never got into sci-fi too much because the real thing was quite thrilling enough for me.

Like many Americans, I was heartbroken when our American space program was decimated and manned spaceflight was ended under the Obama administration.  Growing up, astronauts were heroes; we knew their names like kids today know names of athletes.  Little boys wanted to grow up to be astronauts – fly to the moon; little girls too, for that matter.

America isn’t totally out of the space program, however. Charles Fishman has penned a lovely feature for The Atlantic about the International Space Station which takes us aboard and shows us what daily life is like there, how the astronauts (and cosmonauts) adjust to life in space, and reveals a bit about their mission.  (Arms in, or out, of your sleeping bag?)  Fishman’s article made me think, too: why don’t we know the names of these astronauts:

It’s a little strange when you think about it: Just about every American ninth-grader has never lived a moment without astronauts soaring overhead, living in space. But chances are, most ninth-graders don’t know the name of a single active astronaut—many don’t even know that Americans are up there. We’ve got a permanent space colony, inaugurated a year before the setting of the iconic movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s a stunning achievement, and it’s completely ignored.

As a teacher, our tenth grade literature book has an excerpt in it about Apollo 13 and the race to save the astronauts as they battled one critical malfunction after another.  I always make it a point for my students to read that selection and when time allows we watch all or part of the film.  Inevitably they ask me if it’s a true story.  They are always, always held spellbound by the suspense, and more importantly, many are fascinated by the teamwork and the ingenuity that brought the astronauts home.

There are so many benefits that we as a society have gained from our space program, and I don’t mean just Tang and Velcro. The best part of the space program has been the inspiration and the hope for the future that it has given generations of students.  Look at Homer Hickam for just one example of that. Maybe we can look to the skies once again for examples of heroes or role models for our kids rather than overpaid thug athletes. (Apologies for the generalization – I know they aren’t all thugs).

At any rate, Mr. Fishman’s article is a lovely tribute to the space program and brings a much needed awareness to the International Space Station.  When the ISS flies overhead, for those on earth it’s a few minutes of blinking lights passing overhead in the night sky; the next time it flies over my community I will have an entirely different perspective of what might be going on up there.

H/T: Instapundit

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.