Sunday, February 25, 2018

Trust Issues

I was on my way back from Elgin, Illinois last night when I came to some conclusions about myself. I don’t trust people and now I know why.

It’s a two and a half hour drive from Elgin to home, and I filled my drive with music. I love long drives. I brainstorm, I write, I reminisce, and I relive. It’s an opportunity for me to let my mind go blank and to see where it goes. Last night’s drive music was chosen on the fly. I was using Spotify, and I didn’t want to stop driving to type in my search terms. I used voice recognition. So instead of getting a Billboard top 100 playlist from 1980, I got one from 1982, which was okay. At first.

Jamming along to hits from your junior and senior year of high school can be a lot of fun, reliving the glory days. But then I got turned around by The Little River Band’s “Take it Easy On Me.” I loved this song when I was in high school, and owned the cassette it was on. Yes, young people, we had cassette tapes. Now, The Little River Band was not a natural fit for me. In fact, the only reason I owned the cassette was because I had joined the Columbia House Record & Tape club. For those of you too young to remember, you would get as many as seven albums for one cent when you joined, but then you had to agree to purchase two more at a stupid price like $17.99 each over the next year. So, for $36 or so, you got nine albums, making the average price four bucks, which was a bargain. That’s where the Little River Band comes in. I was thinking back to that time, and I remembered that my mother and stepfather persuaded me to join the club myself, which is when I picked out that cassette tape. It wasn’t one I would ordinarily pick, but I just needed a seventh selection for my penny. You see, if you persuaded someone else to join, you would get even more free music. So, my own mother used me to get free music for herself. I remember thinking right then how wrong it seemed, but I didn’t care. I was getting cheap music! Now, though? It describes a fundamental parental relationship issue that I had with both of my parents.

Flash forward two years to summer, 1984. I was home for the summer after my freshman year of college, the Tigers were tearing it up, and I was working nights at Four Winns Boats in Cadillac, Michigan. I was making decent money for the time, and taking a summer course (Calculus II) at a nearby community college. My dad let me come back and stay with him, but I had to pay half the rent, now that I was over 18. I was okay with that. But come the late summer, I got my financial aid report back and found that I went from having almost everything covered via scholarship and Pell Grant, to receiving zero dollars. I was stunned. What the heck had happened? I made a long-distance phone call (yes, you used to have to pay extra) to Western Michigan University to find out why. If I didn’t get my financial aid restored, I wasn’t going to be going back to college in the next month. I was panicked. The financial aid counselor told me that my application had been amended because I had filed as independent while my father had claimed me as a dependent on his federal and state income taxes. I almost dropped the phone. I thanked her and told her that I would straighten it out. When my dad got home, I had a few choice words for him, and not many of them contained more than four letters. How did he justify claiming me as a dependent when I was only staying with him for three months and was paying for half the rent and all of my other expenses, including my own food? He stammered some excuses, saying that he didn’t have enough money to pay his taxes without me as a dependent. It didn’t even occur to me then that he had filed in April, at which time I had not stayed with him AT ALL. I was outraged. I asked how much the difference was, and he said it was around $300. I almost lost my mind. He had screwed me out of a year’s worth of tuition and room and board over $300. The next day, I got a new return and my checkbook, and redid his taxes with an amended return. I told him to sign it and I mailed it with a check that I wrote to the IRS out of my own account. That was the last time I ever went home for the summer, or trusted either one of my parents.

As it turns out, this mistrust has carried over into my adult life. I had a recent experience with someone I call a friend and when there was a discrepancy in the figures in an arrangement that we had previously agreed to and what was now expected, I immediately thought that I was being taken advantage of. Now I realize that it was a simple misunderstanding and that I overreacted. I feel terrible about it. It’s not right, but at least now I understand where the emotion is coming from. I owe someone an apology, and I’ve made arrangements to make that apology later today.

And I hope that’s enough to give me pause before the next time I perceive something as deception where intent just doesn’t exist.

As my brother and I say, our upbringing truly is the “gift that keeps on giving.” I’d like to return this gift now. I believe I have the receipt.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Reading With Pictures: Comics That Make Kids Smarter

Josh Elder, drawn by Jim McClain
I first met Josh Elder in 2011 at C2E2 when he was selling his first Reading With Pictures book. When I told him and Trevor Mueller that I admired what they were doing and shared what my plans were for Solution Squad, Trevor hit me with his usual, "Don't tell me about your comic; SHOW me your comic." Trevor, I want to officially thank you for making me angry. What you said lit a fire under me. If you hadn’t said that to me that day, I might never have finished the book.

On February 29, 2012 (Radical’s birthday), My niece Rose and I launched the Solution Squad web comic, releasing a new page every week (or so). Even though we were brand new at this game, Cherry CapitalCon allowed us to table at their convention with nothing more than four pages of a web comic and a poster to sell, and that summer, Kids Read Comics was the second con to let us in. By this time, we were on page 10 of the 24-page story, and we had them printed out in a portfolio with a lot of empty sleeves in it. I sat in on Josh’s presentation there, and when I saw what his vision was for RWP’s next book The Graphic Textbook, I knew it was a great fit. It was exactly what we were already working on! I invited him down to our table, and showed him that our story was exactly what he had described in his talk. Unfortunately, our story didn’t fit the mold because first, it was going to be too long at 24 pages, while the Graphic Textbook featured 8-10 pages stories; and my intent was to use it for middle school instead of elementary, because identifying prime numbers at that time was a 7th grade Indiana standard. He was enthusiastic about it, however, and wished us luck and got a “maybe next time” if the graphic textbook got a sequel for middle school. I still backed the GraphicTextbook Kickstarter, though. I was very happy to see it happening.

In early 2013, our Solution Squad comic was finally done, and off to the printer it went. It was also accepted as one of ComiXology’s first Submit applicants, and it was released online to the public the same week as C2E2 was being held, and Rose and I were to be there in Artist Alley!
The big time! Having seen a digital copy of the comic, Josh asked me to present with him and Carol Tilley at C2E2 on Comics and the Common Core. I know I’ve told this story before (many, many times) but it bears repeating: It was the day my life changed forever. But what I haven’t mentioned is that in looking up the Common Core State Standards for my presentation, I was flabbergasted to find that identifying prime and composite numbers had been placed in fourth grade!

Later that summer, as a Kickstarter backer, I received a preview of the first completed math story that would be included in the Graphic Textbook. It was called, “Probamon: Gotta Know the Odds.” It was a Pokemon parody that was to ostensibly teach probability using an actual card game that was played with a rock-paper-scissors hierarchy. It was a great sendup! But I took one look at the actual math involved and contacted Josh immediately. The writer of the story had used probability and odds interchangeably throughout the whole thing. For those of you who don’t know, probability and odds are two different things. They are calculated and expressed quite differently. I told Josh that if he published this story this way, uncorrected, that teachers would eat him alive. At that point, he asked me to send him suggestions for changes to make the math right.

It was then that I met and worked with the brilliant Tracy Edmunds as an official math consultant. If I haven’t praised her enough on Facebook and Twitter, Tracy is an amazing person. I can’t say enough great things about her. Tracy and I have become good friends thanks to that experience. After we successfully banged out the changes that would make the story better and mathematically sound, I was invited to look at the rest of the math content. It was very exciting, being involved in something this big at this level, with virtually no experience in publishing. I did find a few more corrections to make to the other math stories, and I think they are better for it. I know Probamon is; “Gotta Chance ‘em All” is a much better subtitle than “Gotta Know the Odds!”

Because I had lettered my own book, Josh asked me to letter a few stories in the book. Woohoo! My name in the credits! The first story I lettered was Mike and Janet Lee’s “Special Delivery to Shangri-La.” I didn’t know at that time, But Janet was an Eisner Award winning artist. That’s like the Academy Awards for comics! My first job is lettering the art of an Oscar winner? Too much! Then I was making color corrections. Then I was adding titles to stories that didn’t have any. Yes, I edited Katie Cook. I can officially say that and I’m not even lying. Because I had done design work for my book, Josh then really hit me. He asked me to design the teachers guide that Tracy was editing that would go along with the book. See, I worked cheap. Honestly, I had no idea how much to charge. Besides, it was supposed to be a simple drag-and-drop design job.

Tracy and I had collaborated so much, that they invited me to come along as the co-editor of the teachers guide!  As a reward for my hard work, Josh told me that since identifying prime numbers was a fourth grade standard, they could squeeze a shorter version of my Solution Squad story into the book. There wouldn’t be any pay involved. That budget had already been spent. But the opportunity to have our comic published in an anthology was a huge opportunity and I couldn’t pass it up. I used the introductory pages of the story and ended it with a gag that I really didn’t care for, but I got it down to eight pages. When a preview of the whole book went out to backers, I got personally roasted by a critic. That was not a fun day, let me tell you. When AndrewsMcMeel Publishing came along and agreed to publish the book for Reading With Pictures, because then there was no true limit to how many pages were going to go into the book. They were adding a G-Man story to the front of it as well as a new cover, and Josh gave me the happy news that my WHOLE story could be included in the book, instead of the chopped up, not-that-funny intro story. Tracy and I immediately replaced the substandard lesson plan I had for the short story and put the much more complete lesson I was proud of for the prime number sieve. That was a happy, happy day! And as a bonus, I now had a 24-page story in the center of a book filled with 8-10 page stories, and my lettering count went through the roof! I lettered Mike and Janet’s story, my story, and two of Josh’s stories, for a total of 54 pages!

Tracy and I worked tirelessly for months putting together the teachers guide. It was supposed to be a drag-and-drop design job. It wasn’t. By the time we were ready to go, I had put over 200 hours into my work. I didn’t even see my family in November 2013. I even pulled an all-nighter one night on deadline. Teaching on no sleep? Good times. Never again. The good news for me was that since AMP had actual designers, someone would take my beginner InDesign work and make it look good!

In the end, Reading With Pictures: Comics That Make Kids Smarter is a work that I’m proud to have been a part of. The first time I held a physical copy in my hands in Las Vegas at the American Library Association Annual Conference, I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. I found the AMP booth, and it was there on a book stand; one preview copy. At the end of the convention, I went home with that copy.

It was at that convention that I met some of the big leaguers in educational comics. I was on a panel with Gene Luen Yang and Nathan Hale, both of whom later agreed to provide cover blurbs for me. But it was watching Josh do a book signing that really fired me up. I was asked to stand aside and talk to teachers as they stood in line to have a copy of the preview guide signed by him. I admit, I was jealous after the hundreds of hourse I had worked on the book. But it was completely understandable. This was his baby. He raised the money, put the team together and everything. But suddenly I wanted a book that I could sign with my name on it, too. And once I saw the way that real publishers treat their talent, I knew I wanted to be part of that world!

It’s a point of personal pride now to see Reading With Pictures: Comics That Make Kids Smarter in the hands of kids and parents. It wasn’t a blockbuster hit, but it’s in its third printing, and I still sell it proudly on my convention table. When Solution Squad isn’t what a customer wants, either because they don’t care for math or they have younger children, I have my backup plan in place: A book with four subject areas with charming stories about onomatopoeia,  figurative language, and action presidents! And it doesn’t hurt that G-Man is right on the cover.

Plus, it makes for a fun story when you tell people that your very first attempt at making a comic ended up in a hardcover book published worldwide by the same company that puts out Calvin & Hobbes! 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Last Jedi

My thoughts on Star Wars The Last Jedi come from a very deep, personal place. I would appreciate not being called a hater, curmudgeon, etc. for expressing them. Spoilers ahead.

When I was 12 years old, Luke Skywalker was a hero to me. Star Wars was my favorite movie of all time. It still was until this past Friday. Luke came from the death of his family to follow Ben Kenobi on an adventure to find answers about his father and to become a Jedi Knight. He never strayed from the path of light, nor gave in to the cynicism of Han Solo. He believed in the Princess and the rebellion. He blew up the Death Star because that youthful optimism had even persuaded snarky Solo to return to the fray where he never wanted to be.

I wrote my own Star Wars adventures built around Luke and his X-Wing, travelling from place to place with Artoo, playing with a die-cast toy much like the one Luke had of his Skyhopper, to spark the imagination. When Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was released the following year as a stealth sequel, written just in case the studio wouldn’t give George Lucas the budget he required, Luke was the hero again with Leia and the droids at his side. There was no sign of Han Solo.

When I was 15, Luke trained to be a Jedi. Though he acted like a spoiled child at first, it was out of a sense of duty to his friends that he left his training early to go to their rescue, giving up everything he had worked so hard to attain and paying the price.

When I was 18, Luke rescued Han Solo, Leia, and Chewbacca from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt and returned to his master, only to find out that he knew everything he needed to know to become a Jedi and that he only needed to face Vader again to become one. At the end of the film and my childhood, Luke had redeemed his father, was at last a Jedi Knight, and the story possibilities were limitless.

I’m 53 now. I waited 35 years to see Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight. Just a few years ago, JJ Abrams spent an entire chapter of the saga with the characters desperately looking for Luke Skywalker. The dramatic ending where Rey offers him Luke his original lightsaber, the Jedi weapon that once belonged to his father…became a setup for a sight gag. In this film, Luke casually tosses the lightsaber over his shoulder and walks away. My reaction: What the actual f---?

I didn’t wait 35 years to see Luke Skywalker become a whiny hermit waiting to die on an effing island, turning his back on his sister, the cause she believed in, and the Force. I didn’t wait 35 years to see Luke Skywalker, hero of the rebellion, actually consider murdering his own nephew while he slept. I don’t know who Rian Johnson thinks Luke Skywalker was, but I sure as hell didn’t recognize him. Luke fought hard and risked everything to redeem Vader, but thought about murdering Ben Solo in his sleep? What? Pretty sure that’s not in the Jedi code.

I’ll say this: Mark Hamill played the heck out of that role. I’ve said this before: Mark Hamill is 10 times the actor Harrison Ford is. Harrison Ford is a movie star. He plays Harrison Ford in every movie he’s in. But Mark Hamill is an actor. It was a great performance. I just wish he’d been playing my Luke Skywalker instead of whoever that was on the screen.

Mark Hamill recently told someone on-camera that he wished that in that climactic scene at the end of The Force Awakens, that the lightsaber that Kylo Ren was trying to summon to his hand had flown right by him and into Luke’s hand instead of Rey’s. Can you imagine the cheers that would have gone up in the crowd when they realized that Han’s death had created a stir in the Force that both Luke and Leia had felt and that Luke had left his exile to come to her aid? The roar would have been deafening. THAT’S how you make a Star Wars movie. You give Luke his moment. You give people like me Luke’s moment. You don’t make him project himself across the galaxy using some heretofore unheard of Jedi power that a thousand generations of Jedi never exhibited and then have him die for no reason.

I know the idea was to pass the baton to the new generation of characters.  But I only got to see Luke receive it when I was a kid and then pass it off 35 years later without ever running with it. And that was a race I would have loved to have seen, even briefly.

I don't need to nitpick this movie. I can (trust me, I have more to say) but the only important point to me is that Luke Skywalker should have been more to this trilogy than a burned out whiny failure who finishes as a cheesy hologram who really died alone on a rock halfway across the galaxy. He deserved better and so do we.

Sunday, November 26, 2017


What is it about this time of year that gets me now? Is it that everyone concerned (except my brother) is gone now? I think it must be. My dad, my mom, my sister, my grandparents...all gone. Everyone I spent holidays with as a kid, except my brother (who doesn't remember much of it), is dead.

That's a lonely thought. But the wonders and the joy and the smells of the holiday are hardwired into my brain. It's colorful Oz compared to the dreary black and white days of Kansas in the every day nightmare of my childhood. Spending time with the people who loved me most for a glorious week, as opposed to being beaten, belittled, and berated every day. There was nothing better. I know for a fact that if I had not had those respites to look forward to, I wouldn't have made it out alive. Even now, I weep with joy at the happy memories.

My grandma baking batch after batch of cookies. Ice cream with chocolate syrup and peanut butter as a treat every night. Endless coloring books and comics and silly putty and drawing paper and colored pencils. Sleeping on the hide-a-bed in the living room. Trips to Cadillac and Traverse City, visiting the best bookstores in northern Michigan, and knowing that I'll be able to choose something new to take back and read in peace without being tortured for reading "those damn comic books" again. An oversized treasury comic bought for the extravagant sum of $1.00, hearing my grandpa chuckle, saying, "A dollar for a funny book? Jesus Christ, Ma," but knowing that he didn't care.

Riding snowmobiles for endless hours and warming up by the woodstove and drinking hot chocolate. Egg nog that I helped make from the time I was able to reach the counter while stepping on a stool, with freshly ground nutmeg.  Chocolate milk with dinner; the decadence! Getting our action figures out and playing to our hearts' content while my dad and grandparents sat around the table drinking coffee.

I remember every gift no matter how small. My dad's tradition was to give us Lifesavers storybooks and McDonald's gift certificates. The reason behind the gift certificates is so terrible: My mother and stepfather wouldn't let us eat very much at McDonald's so in order to allow Jeff and me to order what we wanted, he gave us gift certificates. It didn't work out. They just used them to order the usual and kept them. Yes, I know, even my holiday stories have darkness to them. Welcome to my world. But don't think for a moment that the thought wasn't appreciated. It most certainly was. We knew we were loved, if only for a while.

As I put this last paragraph down, I'm already crying at the thought of leaving each year. And not just tears rolling down my cheeks. We're talking the ugly cry. My grandpa would slip us each a dollar and kiss us goodbye. He wasn't exactly an affectionate man, but there was no doubt of his love. One of his favorite things in the world were cordial cherries and I made sure he got a box of them from me every single year. I think it was his favorite gift. By the time we got to the back door of the mud room, we were begging to stay. "Don't make us go back. Please! We'll be good." And my grandma would hold us close, and whisper, "I know you would. You'll be back soon, I promise. I love you." And she would have to leave the room before we saw her cry as well. Then my dad would hug us. I knew he didn't want to let us go. And with hindsight, I can't imagine the guilt he must have felt for causing this disruption not just for us, but for his own parents who didn't get to see us except for twice a year. It was not ideal. But in my darkest hours lying in bed at night back with my mother, I know we were loved for a short time every Christmas. That's why I'll always celebrate regardless of religion. It wasn't about Jesus or God for me. I got beatings in the name of God.

It was about family. It was about home. It was about love. And it was about hope.

Thursday, November 23, 2017


Thanksgiving is supposed to be about giving thanks to God. The problem is, I’m an atheist. The reasons why aren’t important at the moment. I still think it is  important to appreciate the people and things in our lives that make us who we are, and if we want to do it on a retailer-driven fourth Thursday of November, enacted by Congress in 1941, who am I to argue? First thing I'm thankful for? That I don't teach history. It's all shenanigans.

As anyone who knows me or has read my writing knows, I've had a troubled life, beginning with a seriously troubled childhood. That's okay. Since then, I've led a productive life, had a successful career, am married to the most wonderful woman in the world, and have a child who amazes me every single day with her talent, intelligence, and humor. We have a roof over our heads, cars to drive (usually more than one; not today, but still), and food on the table today. We're not buried under crushing debt (anymore) and we are able to provide our daughter with dance lessons, movies, dinners out once in a while, and the occasional trip to the theater. I'd call that a win on its own.

Yes, we've had a pretty horrific time since my mother died a year ago in August. We've had catastrophic financial disasters one after another that have wiped out any savings we had and then some. But is it the worst I've been through? HA! Let me put it this way, it won't stop me from retiring. I was always planning to work anyway. I just need to make the difference between my former salary and my pension. I'm pretty sure I can do that. Want to know what has seen me through the darkest of times these past few months besides my wife and daughter? You. There was a moment in April that was one of the greatest moments of my life. If I had to cast the Patronus charm right now, this

is the moment I would choose to draw from. The moment my Kickstarter reached its goal because I had the support of so many of you, I knew I could never retreat into the darkness again. I can't thank all of you enough, but this is certainly the day to do so. Without your support, my book would never have been financed. Even now, I'm looking for ways to capitalize on it and expand its reach in a tough market. But I wouldn't even be dreaming about it if not for all of you.

Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 19, 2017


One of my friends is leaving the school system in which I have worked for the past 20 years. He’s not the first. He’s not even the 20th. But he’s the one I never would have predicted. It’s been a long road to travel these past few years, but it’s time this school system and I separated, too.

It started 10 years ago when we adopted Sera. There was no adoption leave language in place in the contract. But because of the way the international adoption rules for China worked, both Magi and I had to travel to China to receive our child. Only one of us could take any kind of leave to do so, even though we both had lots of sick leave time saved up. We only get three personal business days per year, and if we have any left at the end of the year, it’s converted into sick leave. We found out at the last minute that one of us (me) was going to have to take two weeks of unpaid leave to make this trip. As you might imagine, that’s a bit of a hardship when you’re already trying to pay for an expensive adoption. So we appealed to the superintendent.

Our superintendent back then was an amazing man. Some of my friends had worked with him for decades and told me so. I had no reason to doubt them, and they were quite correct. He found a way for me to bend the sick leave rules since it is often true that children show signs of illness immediately following an adoption. I would use my three personal days first, and then go to sick leave after that, to ostensibly attend to the sick child. He didn’t have to do this, but he did. And for that, we will be forever in his debt. We would have been loyal to the school system in perpetuity, had it not been for the actions of one of his underlings.

Magi was going to stay home with Sera for the rest of the school year using the Family Medical Leave Act, which allows a parent to use six weeks of accumulated leave to care for a new child. Since spring break was in the middle of this period, we didn’t count it, and she had just enough that she would not have to return to school for a week. But the personnel director at that time decided that spring break counted as one of the six weeks, and so she was only allowed to take five weeks of accumulated leave and would either have to return to school for one week or take a week off, unpaid. She took the week unpaid, putting a lot of the financial burden we thought we had escaped right back on us. We thought about going over her head, but the superintendent had already been kind to us. We didn’t want to push our luck. What did the school system gain by this? They didn’t have to pay out for five days of leave she had earned. And they lost our loyalty. We had personal loyalty to the superintendent, but professional loyalty to the school system was gone.

Someone I know and am very close to was up for a new job a few years ago. At first, she was the perfect applicant for the job. In fact, she was the only qualified applicant in the entire process. She had a teaching license and years of experience in the field to back her up. During her interview, she was asked questions that are illegal to ask in a job interview. Not just unethical, mind you, but illegal. She knew that because she used to interview people for jobs all the time and knew the law. She didn’t get the job, and it was re-posted without some of the requirements that she alone had had, like having a teaching license. The job description now also included the ability to lift and sustain 50-pound weights. Ironic, since she now has the job and has never had to lift anything that weighs close to 50 pounds. She fought this illegal and unethical practice with the union’s help and she got the job. The person who was preventing her from getting the job has now admitted he was wrong for doing so. She went on to become teacher of the year at her new school, too. So, you know, there’s that.

The writing was clearly on the wall when I won the Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowship in 2014. Only 100 teachers statewide win this award (there are almost 60,000 teachers just in the public schools alone), at that time a $10,000 fellowship. And I was one of two from our school system to win it. Neither of us was recognized by the school system for this achievement. It was only when one of my friends wrote to the local newspaper about it that any attention was paid at all. I was interviewed by the newspaper and then on television. Only after that was there a single blurb on the school’s website about it. There is no evidence of it at all now. You can’t even find it by searching.

When I was transferred to another school against my will, that was the last straw. I’ve written enough about that elsewhere, and I’ve come to terms with it. But it was still wrong on every possible level. Lie after lie was told.

The point is that for 18 years I sacrificed for my school and my students, serving on and chairing committee after committee, initiating programs, managing after school programs, working Sundays to organize testing schedules and the like. Magi has given up countless hours in her position, doing unpaid and thankless (literally) work for her school. And now here we are, corporate cogs in the machine. I’m still having trouble with it. Schools aren’t supposed to work that way. They’re supposed to be like how the former superintendent did things. You make things work for your people because you want people to work harder for you. Unfortunately, it’s to the point now where it’s more like his personnel director treated us: as a way to save the system $500 in sub pay to make her advancement path clearer. I’m glad she never advanced a single level more.

When I watch these people celebrate the national-level success of a school on camera, while knowing full well their plans are to tear that school apart in the next three years…when I witness lies told directly to the school board…when I see other friends chewed up and spit out by the system they bled for…

It’s time to separate myself from it. I’ll do my time, shut my door and teach my kids, and start cutting ties, one by one. This makes me so ridiculously sad.

It’s not supposed to work this way. And it doesn’t.

Saturday, March 25, 2017


I just re-read this article after four years, and it's not just still true but DOUBLY true. Every last word. Years later and we are STILL pumping money into testing systems and using the tests in ways that even their designers say are inappropriate. We are evaluating art teachers and music teachers by their students' language arts test scores. We have become slaves to "data" that has no validity whatsoever. We test using math questions that have seven answer choices and up to four of them may be correct. If you miss one, you get the whole question wrong. We test proficiency in adding integers by requiring students to know every possible way to express the question instead of simply asking if they can do it reliably in A mathematically valid way.

The absurdity of the entire system right now is painfully obvious to those with enough experience and knowledge to see it. I got dinged once on an evaluation because I didn't have language arts writing prompt "data" on my wall. Never mind that I wasn't told that it was a criterion used to evaluate me ahead of time. I'M A MATH TEACHER. I'm at risk of not being considered a highly effective math teacher because I don't have writing prompt "data" from the language arts department that most math teachers (I'm an exception) aren't even qualified to evaluate in the first place? The scoring rubric was so vague that nothing useful could come from it. And I DO know how to evaluate grammar and spelling. If you want me to evaluate their writing, I'll do it. And I'll do it correctly. But a checklist item to indicate whether they used the three vocabulary words you explicitly told them to use? THAT'S NOT WRITING DATA. It's compliance data, as is the use of exactly three paragraphs. I literally have to count the times they indented and check the box. And someone thinks that posting this information on the board with a score attributed to each student makes me a better math teacher.

This isn't data we're collecting, any more than literally counting beans in Kindergarten was accounting. It's not even as good as the empirical data I gather from walking around my classroom while students are working to check their understanding. There's no serious mathematical analysis going on. There are no standard deviations being measured. I would like to challenge everyone in every school administration, local, statewide, and national, to define an outlier or even interquartile range without looking it up. And if they can't do it, they should STOP TALKING ABOUT DATA. Because that's basic, and I mean BASIC statistics. It's an Algebra II standard here in Indiana. If you're not even up to using high school math, then stop using it to adversely affect the learning of my students and the livelihoods of my colleagues and me.

I've been told to watch what I say on Facebook. I do. I carefully consider my words and edit them numerous times to make sure I am not misrepresenting myself or the truth. But, okay, I'll post it here on my old blog instead. Data proves that it's not Facebook.