September 2006

Freebie Friday!

The Wall Street Journal online is free today — access to most content is normally by subscription only.

“Shocked by Chavez” is an interesting piece, but if you don’t subscribe, set aside a few minutes today to browse.

“-isms:” the real enemy

Racism, classism, fanaticism. elitism — they’re all words that divide us. More often than not, they divide us unfairly and inaccurately.

AT’s response to County vs. City contains some thoughts worth pondering.

A lot of the problem we had with Oak Ridge stems from the fact that while attending Glenwood, the PTO and other parents were Farragut style “soccer moms”, who didn’t necessarily work, had plenty of disposable income, were a decade or two older than us (with kids the same age) and lived a lifestyle that GAC and I don’t.

I can understand that. Like AT and GAC, I married and started a family fairly young. I chose to stay home with my children, the interest rate on our mortgage was about 12% (down from 18% when he bought the house in 1982 as a bachelor), and it seemed like all the disposable income we had went to diapers, car seats, and kid stuff. My wardrobe consisted mostly of jeans and t-shirts or maternity clothes I’d made for myself on a $64 secondhand sewing machine.

I was incredibly shy growing up, and quite short on self confidence until I hit 30 or so. Overcoming that is another story for another day.
While we were far from poor, I do remember occasions where I felt “looked down upon.” In retrospect, most of those instances were likely more my interpretation than an outright snubbing.

Like the victims of any of the various -isms, I don’t like being labeled as something I’m not — no one does. Prejudice is pre-judging someone, absent the evidence to support the assumption. I guess that’s why I respond as I do to the assertion that “Oak Ridgers think they’re better than other folks,” or that “elected officials are all hiding something.”

Prejudice cuts both ways. AT closed by saying,

Like racism, tho, the people on the happy side of the class divide often don’t realize it.

It’s unfortunate that the race card is so frequently played when it’s unwarranted. Yes, racism exists, but it’s been so overplayed that now, the real instances may well be overlooked because the charge has been so diluted by false claims. To say that I am racist because of my race, is, in fact, a racist response.

The same is true, perhaps, of the views between rural Anderson County to Oak Ridge. When one says “they look down on us” and the other is offended as the object of prejudice, starting any positive conversation becomes more difficult.

Yes, snobs exist. Racists exist. Fanatics exist. However, making assumptions puts up a barrier, which inhibits finding common ground that might otherwise lead to productive and rewarding interactions with other human beings — people who might be much more like ourselves than we realize.

Face the Music

Yet another study establishes a definite link between early music instruction and academic success.

County vs. City

The Oak Ridger carried a story today reprinted from yesterday’s (Memphis) Commercial Appeal; perhaps predictably, it began with noting that the City recently rejected a proposed skateboard park, while approving a radioactive storage facility in the same meeting… something that probably paints us as elitist and nutty in most parts of the state.

The gist of the article is that Anderson County (including most of Oak Ridge) is one of 12 counties in Tennessee that have a record of voting for the winner in statewide and national elections, dating back 20 years or so. In the article, Memphis reporter David Waters paints a picture of the County’s economic and cultural diversity as an explanation for the phenomenon.

It was an interesting piece; I’m happy that the ‘Ridger reprinted it for us, as I don’t always read the CA in its entirety, although I do read at least some of it, most days. However, I do wonder how hard they looked to find Mary Harris, County Historian, who would happily perpetuate some myths that need to be slain once and for all.

“People in Oak Ridge tend to think they’re better than the rest of us,” said county historian Mary Harris, whose great-great-great grandfather was one of Anderson County’s first settlers.

“That naturally creates some tension between Oak Ridge and the rest of the county.”

I’d be glad to hear what Ms. Harris thinks, but I bristle at reading her interpretation of what I — an Oak Ridger — think, since we’ve never met and she’s never asked. I bet there are about 27,000 others out there who’ve never given her any slight, either.

Reading that article on top of GAC’s weird dream was a bit much. Now, I surely hope that GAC doesn’t find us snobby, given that we all had a good time hanging out on Daco’s porch the other day. We all like beer. We all like food. We all like kids. We all think education is important, and as best best I could tell, we all want something more for our children as we’ve achieved for ourselves.

Some of us were born here, some were not. I doubt that a stranger to the group (from anywhere) could tell who was native and who wasn’t.

Doubtless, Ms. Harris’ credentials run back 50 or 60 years, and there likely was some resentment among the East Tennessee folk who were booted off their land by the feds to make way for the wartime project. There may have been some assimilation difficulties in the 1940s, but that was a long time ago.

In the early 1980’s, I dated a fellow from Clinton whose mother told him that every Oak Ridge teenager got a brand new car and a credit card for their 16th birthday (WHOA — how did I miss out on that one?).

I think that the kids of today have less of a stereotype in mind, as my daughter has made friends with a number of Clinton kids that she met through the swim team and other activities. None of them seem to have the assumption that one or the other thinks themselves superior or inferior to the other.

So, what’s wrong with the grownups, and why does a “furriner” from Memphis highlight such a negative perception?

Flying monkeys!

Forever ago on the Oak Ridger forums, it seems that someone had tried to speculate on the nature of my personality based upon what I like to drink, and totally missed the mark.  Maybe it was Joel, maybe Jacket… I don’t remember, and the post is too old and no longer there.

My description was “part flying monkeys and part Glenda the Good Witch of the North, depending on the day.”  Daco noted that flying monkeys are scary (yes, they are!), and I consoled him with the fact that Hubby does a good job of keeping the flying monkeys at bay.  Translation: he has a calming effect on me.
Today is definitely a flying monkeys day, and he’s not home yet.  First, the lawnmower battery was dead.  So was the charger, with which I usually jump-start the mower.
The spate of bad news was enough to wreck the morning, and a headache took out the afternoon.  When it was time to run the daily taxi service, I picked up Delta from chess club, then went in search of Gamma (returning from a golf tournament).  I had my cell phone on so Gamma could tell me where she was (there are at least three parking lots at the high school), but the stupid thing died.

The charger was in Hubby’s truck.

Then, I started hearing a funny noise, like maybe there was a plastic bag stuck on my front wheel.  After circling the high school several times looking for Gamma, I stopped on the side of the road to look: flat tire.

Looking around, I realized that the Grove Market was only about a block away, so I turned around and headed that way (with my car now making a very ugly noice, particularly around the corners).  Now, the Grove market is not a place I would normally stop… but it was the only thing close.  With no paper money (I have teenagers, remember), I scavenged enough dimes to trade in for three quarters for the air pump.

Nothing happened.  I mean, air went in, but the pressure never increased.  The three industrial staples sticking out of the tire provided a good clue to the problem, so I went in and bought a can of fix-a-flat on a visa card.

Still nothing happened, except that I could smell the fix-a-flat stuff as it ran out the large hole in the back side of my tire.

Cell phone dead.  AAA expired, I think.  Time running out, with Gamma somewhere unknown.  Thus, I fished the dinky little temporary spare tire and jack out of the trunk (no easy feat, as there’s still a ton of miscellaneous stuff in there) and set to work.  Now, I know how to change a tire, but this was the first time I’d done so on this car.  The first challenge was finding the key to the anti-theft lug nut, then figuring out how to actually get the tire off.  One of the many spectators tried to help, but he was fixated on taking the mustang logo off of the center of the rim, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t meant to come off.

So, I told him I’d call my husband and not take up any more of his time.  I fished out more dimes (did you know that pay phones are 50 cents now?), but the pay phone wasn’t working.  I went inside and explained my difficulty, asking to use the phone for a local call.

No explanation, just “no.”

So I walked across to Harry’s Aquarium (where they know me), and tried to call Hubby.  No luck.  In desperation, I called another friend, who volunteered her husband to help.

Of course, by the time The Big Kahuna arrived, I’d already figured out that the trick to getting the tire off was just lifting it up and forward from the inside, put on the spare, and began re-tightening the lug nuts in a cross-pattern, just as I learned as a teenager.

I finally found Gamma, then went to Sears to have new front tires put on.  It’s $387, for tires that aren’t even as good as the ones now on it.  So, I picked up Beta, stopped by the Rush to consult Hubby about the tire situation, and on his advice just came on home to call and find someone who carries the tires like I now have — they do make a significant difference in the handling and performance, and he said to hold out for the good ones.

They probably won’t cost much more.  But, it’s a large unexpected expense nonetheless.

So, AT and GAC, I’m really sorry that I missed the festival, but after the tire-changing episode, I was so dirty I would have scared the children.  And I broke a nail.  And the whole flock of flying monkeys are hovering around… my own kids know better than to even ask what’s for supper.

Education Forum Today

This afternoon’s education forum in Clinton brought a preview of the State’s likely course in the coming year: funding will be a key issue, but recently, the discussion has moved from “equity” to “adequacy.” That’s a giant step forward, because as long as they’re just rearranging who gets more and who gets less, we’re doomed to be “equally inadequate.”

Jerry Winters, Director of Government Relations for TEA (the state teachers’ union) predictably expressed concern about “virtual schools” (also called e-learning, where students could complete coursework online rather than in a traditional classroom) run by private, for-profit companies siphoning off per-pupil funding from the public schools. He’s also concerned about health issues, and stressed that we shouldn’t expect our teachers to also function as nurses.

He closed his opening remarks with a statement of opposition to “differentiated compensation” (higher rates of pay for harder to fill posiitons, such as advanced science and math teachers. Of course, since the TEA includes a large number of elementary teachers and those who teach something other than advanced science, math, or foreign languages, it’s not surprising that a majority would be opposed.

Bruce Opie, the Legislative Liason for the Department of Education, reiterated that funding would again be at the top of the priority list. He indicated that after reviewing performance data for pre-K programs in Tennessee and elsewhere, the Governor is now “a believer” in the effectiveness of that program, and that his goal is to have voluntary preschool universally available — beginning with at-risk and economically disadvantaged children.

The Governor has also been studying best practices at some of the State’s top performing high schools, and is looking toward improving the senior year experience by fostering partnerships between community colleges and the high schools in their service area. One example of a program that’s already underway is between Northeast State Technical Community College and high schools in the Tri-Cities area. There, students can pursue dual enrollment, earning both high school and college credit simultaneously.

All three school systems in Anderson County were represented either by board members, administrators, or both. Audience questions seemed, for a change, to be largely in sync — a need for some state funding for School Resource Officers and relief from unfunded mandates (such as the state’s allowable pupil-teacher ratio being imposed at the classroom level, while funding is only provided at the system level, resulting in a number of required teaching positions for which there is no state funding at all).

A shared concern among audience members was actually federal mandates, both No Child Left Behind, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. An interesting discussion ensued about the theory of declining all federal funding and eschewing all federal mandates, and whether the dollars would balance. No conclusion was reached, but the $1 billion in federal funds that flows to the state for education seemed to be a sticking point that no one could move beyond.

Jim Hackworth closed by reminding the audience that Anderson County has seen over 5,000 new jobs created in the past five years, with a $600 million increase in the tax base. Education is critical to economic growth, and is one area with an almost certain return on the investment.

Invitation

This Friday, Sept. 22, you’re invited to a tailgate party before the ORHS v. Jefferson County (Homecoming) game, in honor of State Rep. Jim Hackworth, at the new home of Betsy and Gary Coleman.

Jim HackworthJim is an outstanding supporter of public education, an outspoken advocate for our communities in the 33rd District, and an all-around really good guy. If he tells you he’ll follow up, he does. If you call, he listens. Beyond that, he doesn’t wait for people to ask for information — he brings the information to you, as is the case with the education forum this afternoon in Clinton featuring a couple of experts from the State.

A couple of years ago, he brought in several people to talk about fiscal capacity as it relates to education financing. He’s conducted a number of forums on health care.

There’s no set price of admission, but it would be nice if you could contribute something, even just what you would otherwise spend on dinner that evening (we’ll be serving Buddy’s BBQ and an assortment of homemade sides).

We’ll need an RSVP by Thursday — e-mail me, or call Betsy at 482-0021. You’ll get the address then, so we definitely know how many to feed.

Happy Birthday, AtomicTumor!

To celebrate the one-year existence of the first real blog in Oak Ridge (at least that I know of), the folks at AtomicTumor.com put together a bit of a bash yesterday afternoon.

So, what do bloggers do when they get together? Sit around and geek at each other?

Something like that, I guess. Only it involved a whole lot of food, a little beer, some grease paint, fire, sand, and other stuff. The only one who brought a laptop was Hubby… who neither posts nor comments.

Thanks to Daco and Mrs. Daco for offering their lovely home for the festivities; Daco has a fabulous place for a party with kids — sandbox, a great view, and the biggest swing I’ve ever seen. There was much speculation as to how he managed to get the ropes over the branch of that Oak tree, with the most creative being a modified potato gun theory.

Delta has already put in a request for one of LissaKay‘s recipes, and the cheesecake was fabulous — I think that was djuggler‘s contribution. Nope, AT just corrected me: it was Mrs. Mr.Orange.
jugglerWe had a great time, and it’s nice to be able to put faces to the various personalities.

We’re real people with strong opinions, but yesterday’s emphasis was on the real people part.

kids

Test Prep

The following letter from the test prep company probably failed from a marketing standpoint.

Exerpts included (courtesy of the Star-Telegram in Texas):

“Many students believe that if they do not know the answer to a question they should leave it blank rather than loose 1/4 point if they get it wrong…”

“What are the difference between the SAT & the ACT?”

“Students discover that relying on calculators can cause errors, and that the single biggest strategy they can use to improve their math score.”

“Colleges don’t care how many times you take they test, they are only interested in your highest score.”

There is room in this world for people of talents beyond the written or spoken word, but make no mistake: language matters. UT Engineering Professor Spivey Douglass now warns his classes that papers will be graded for grammar as well as content. Communication is essential to success in most fields of study and professions.

The answer is not one of which test preparation program to use (although there are several that are quite good), but for students to take challenging courses throughout high school and focus on mastery of math and English. Without question, other subjects are important — but the ability to read, write, and reason is the essential foundation for so many other pursuits.

As the Fall testing season arrives for high school Juniors and Seniors, remember: check first with the websites of the test providers for practice materials, and if a study guide is needed, seek the recommendation of a guidance counselor or department head.

Education Forum

Are you aware that the State Board of Education is considering additional graduation requirements, at a time when all high schools are struggling to increase graduation rates?

Do you wonder why some communities pay more than others to provide more than a “basic” education for public school students? Or, why the local matching requirement is different from one county to the next?

Do you think that our schools are doing enough, or not nearly enough, in terms of academics, safety, health and wellness, or anything else?

On Monday, there will be a public forum on education featuring Bruce Opie, Assistant Commissioner for Teaching and Learning for the State of Tennessee, along with Jerry Winters of the Tennessee Education Association. Bruce has the governor’s ear on education issues, and Jerry brings the viewpoint of the state’s teachers. It would be a great opportunity to learn more about what we’re doing — and what we need to do — to improve education and opportunity in Tennessee.

The forum begins at 4:30 p.m. on Monday, September 18, in the Little Theatre at Clinton High School. Everyone is welcome.

It’s also your chance to give input on what’s needed — or what’s not — to the folks who can carry your message back to Nashville.

This seminar was organized by Rep. Jim Hackworth, who has put forth an excellent effort over the last four years to bring information to this community so that we better understand the viewpoint from the capitol, and to offer us the opportunities of access and input to the decision making process. Thanks, Jim; we appreciate your service, and the fact that you really do work to bring us into the process.

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