Beth Fine

Educational Fiction Author – Serious Thinker – Child at Heart

Common Core Curriculum Concerns – Part III

DIVERSE CRITIQUES
The Bigger Picture:
Plenty of pro-con comments on Common Core and its standards can be found online, many of which you are probably aware. Even so, the following words from a U.S. News article re-quoted online, jumped out at me of why teachers and parents might be concerned. “People who advocate for the [Common Core Standards] miss the bigger picture….[It] came as a package deal with the new teacher evaluations, higher stakes testing, and austerity measures including school closings.”
(http:// thejosevilson.com/changing-language-anti-testing-pro-whole-child/)

Student Complaints:
In another U.S. News article entitled “How Common Core Standards Kill Creative Teaching,” the reporter captured the strong opinions of two students who had passed through the rigors and repetitive nature of Common Core. “I once saw an eighth grader who was on the verge of being tossed out of his middle school even though he was one of the brightest kids there. When asked why he was failing, he said ‘Why should I be doing the same frickin’ thing since I was in third grade?’ Another student I heard about could comprehend the whole Harry Potter series before she was 11 and read two novels a week, yet thinks she ‘sucks at English’ because she is more nuanced in her thinking than the questions on standardized tests allow. She [has] learned to hate reading.” (usnews.com/opinion/articles/2013/02/17 )

Teacher Responses:
Some teachers want to give CCC a chance to work, many feel ambiguous, and others wonder if they should retire early or resign to start new careers. An article on the pros and cons had some thoughtful comments. https://www.thoughtco.com/common-core-ste-standards 3194603

“Some education policy researchers and professors in schools of education worry that the politicized education arena and the state’s indecisiveness over the Common Core could have significant ramifications for its teaching corps…a profession that already suffers from staggering attrition… [especially] among new teachers…” (https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/04/04/15…common-core teachers)

“Last year, more than 30,000 teachers completed an online 80-question survey created by the American Federation of Teachers and Badass Teachers Association. The results showed… that the majority of teachers reported high levels of stress and were ‘particularly anxious about having to carry out a steady stream of new initiatives—such as implementing curricula and testing related to the Common Core State Standards—without being given training.‘” https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/10/the-disproportionate-stress-plaguing-american-teachers/503219/

In most articles I read, the singular most prominent objection was the misconception that state standards were the same thing as testing standards. Considering how hard teachers work to get their kids ready to perform well on uniform tests, I wonder who would devise tests not reflective of what’s taught in the classroom. However, that’s beyond the scope of this project and must be left to states to address. The article found in the below link, expressed opinions from middle school teachers in Massachusetts who had first thought the material too advanced but then touted the approach when they saw their students returning to a text to answer questions. (http://www.slate.com/blog/schooled/2015/09/09/common_ core _standards_what_four_teachers_actually_think_about_them.html)

Since that view comes from middle school teachers who automatically would use more advanced materials for their more mature audience, it is not possible to adopt their conclusions or to compare their outcomes with the K-3 materials we reviewed for Sullivan County. Even so, members of our committee independently considered the county’s materials too difficult and inappropriate for the intended kindergarten through third grades.

Serendipitously, I found agreement to our contentions in a summary from several “focus groups on the Common Core and Assessments [which] reveals support, concerns, and insights about the standards [as] expressed by elementary teachers in Delaware, Illinois, Utah and Wisconsin. “Several kindergarten and primary grade teachers said some standards did not appear to be developmentally appropriate for young children, who are still working on basic skills. We have to start at ground zero. We have to spend the first quarter front loading letters and sounds, and how to hold a pencil, and how to sit in a chair, and none of that is accounted for in Common Core…A lack of standards-aligned instructional materials forced teachers to create their own.

“Prior to the Common Core State Standards, I don’t think many of us were involved in writing our own curriculum. But then when the Common Core came out…we didn’t really have a curriculum….We hunted, begged, searched, and tried to piece together things that matched that standard.” (https://edsource.org/2017/common-core-standards-what-educators-are-saying)

Parent Considerations:
Having read various domain Letters to Parents outlining how the lessons from the day should be followed up at night, I wondered if devisers of such instructions considered that 70.5% of working women are parents who wearily arrive home, must fix meals, and put little kids to bed, leaving little time to re-enforce unit goals with kids, not withstanding a weekly spelling test and some help with worksheets. (https://www.bls.gov/news.release/famee.nr0.html)

Joy Pullmann, Federalist editor and author of How Common Core Fights Parents for Control of American Kids, wrote in 2009 about how “a conglomerate of unelected, self-appointed officials met behind closed doors to create a set of rules that would outline what children must learn…in core K-12 classes.”
(https://www.encounterbooks.com/…/the-education-invasion-how-common-core-fights…)

“About 1.8 million children in the country are now homeschooled, with the numbers growing each year…Twenty-five percent of parents surveyed have said that the environment of the public schools, including such issues as safety, drugs, and peer pressure,” [and 22 % listed religious or moral instruction] “as reasons to home school.” Others mentioned “dissatisfaction with the academic instruction in other schools,” while smaller numbers explain that their child has a special need, such as a physical or mental health problem.

“A more recent cause for the rise in homeschooling is the introduction of Common Core and other related aspects of nationally-driven standard curriculum in the public schools. Home schooling has grown so quickly in that state [NC] that more children are now being homeschooled than are in private schools.” (https://www.the newamerican.com/…/24541-homeschooling-and-other-education-alternative-on-the-rise)

State Costs, Objections, and Accommodations
“The cost to write new standards is actually fairly modest, experts say. It’s everything else that goes with it – professional development, textbooks and classroom materials – that gets expensive…The implementation of new standards is quite complex,” said Kelly Henderson, who oversees K-12 curriculum for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. “It actually starts a year, or actually two years, before the actual implementation.” (http://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/tn/2015/03/05/ cost-of-implementing-new-standards-would-be-high-say-experts-and-educators/
“Common Core’s rollout costs were projected at $17 billion. California’s actual spending suggests taxpayers will pay more than four times that…[because] the technology costs for Common Core tests are… approximately $4 billion more…[added to] the extra $3.5 billion the legislature gave schools for Common Core in spring 2015 and a separate infusion of $1.7 billion …That makes a total of approximately $9.2 billion above and beyond existing tax expenditures Californians will pay to have Common Core injected into their state.
“California contains approximately 12 percent of the U.S. K-12 population. Given that, Ze’ve Wurman [former DoED official] says: ‘Another way to look at it, the nationwide cost of Common Core exceeds $80 billions, even as most states carefully avoid separating the Common Core costs like California does.”
(Thefederalist.com/…/estimate-common-core-to-cost-california-nearly-10-billion-nation…)

Eighty-five percent of American students attend school in a state that has adopted the Common Core State Standards…As the states transition from adoption to implementation of new standards, many are grappling with how best to assess whether students are learning the material contained in the Common Core. Debates about the costs and merits of Common Core tests are raging in states across the country.
(https://www.brookings.edu/research/standardized-testing-and-the-common-core-standards-you-get-what-you-pay-for/)

Nine states have opted out of Common Core Standards – as of 2017. Others have opted out of the testing. (http://www.corestandards.org/standards-in-your-state/)

(STAY TUNED FOR MORE CONCERNS ABOUT THE METHODS AND CONTENT FOR LOCAL COMMUNITIES TO SCRUTINIZE.)


Concerns about Common Core Curriculum – Part II

Continuation of my entry on May 28th, an entry you may wish to read or re-read to follow the direction of this post.

COMPREHENSIVE MINDSETS THAT CAN’T RESIST TAKING OVER
Department of Education
Persuaded by the National Education Association (NEA) lobbyists, Jimmy Carter approved separating Education from Health, Education & Welfare (HEW) to form a new DoED in 1979. To this department came a flock of bureaucrats transferred from HEW plus high-degreed professionals who expected and received high salaries. These experts had ideas on what and how our kids should learn. Slowly they have promoted the concept of an ultimate public education, federally underwritten, directed, and even funded.

Since the DoEd began its reign, these “experts” have produced stunning national results of approximately 50% of all high school graduates needing non-credit remediation before matriculating college. Even Common Core with its obsession on constant assessments, has not reversed that trend (2017-18 examples: Oregon -70%; Arkansas – 57%; California – 55%). Lamenting the cost of non-credit remedial classes that often require l8 months to complete, California recently lowered its entrance requirements to let students get credit for remediation if they had at least a 2.5 high school average. (https://www.google.com/search?q=50%25 +high+school+grads+take+remediation&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b-1)

Could some blame for such poor results stem from the fact that many state and federal DoED employees have not stayed long in the classroom but returned to university to certify as counselors, administrators, or researchers and thus qualify as experts for coveted government jobs at $100,000+ salaries? http://www.politifact.com/georgia/statements/2013/aug/30/paul-broun. Such jobs create a mindset and career ladder far different from that of typical, altruistic schoolteachers? If my supposition is even slightly true, why would we place the task of writing curriculum (to ensure our local children’s futures) in the hands of those without local, long, and practical classroom experience?

Government Type Mistakes in Core Knowledge Ideas:
We have often given broad license to the impractical government mindset which thrives on flawed judgment and inaccurate facts because it knows how to obtain “more time and workers to study the problem,” problems it mainly has caused. What more do we need to know about comprehensive attempts at any issue (e.g. health care and immigration reforms) to make us finally refuse the experimental, educational albatross of Core Knowledge? An almost genetic mistake seems to operate in those who believe that comprehensive programs solve problems. That mistake seems to cause bureaucrats to forget the physics principle that nothing is static. From the outset, comprehensive programs are neither agile nor flexible enough to respond quickly or effectively to ever-changing local and individual needs. Yet, here we are deferring to the politically correct champions of diversity who thrive on attempts to create uniformity with their flawed idea of an “equal education,” whilst ignoring the very precise variations that exist within people, talents, backgrounds, communities, and value structures. Historically, bureaucratic proposals often just make other things unequal.

Though some articles denied but did not disprove federal government involvement in Common Core Knowledge, I couldn’t help notice while reading Grades 2-3 content, that someone (if not a federal official) had government type “instincts and fingerprints” to have ever approved the many layers of E.D. Hirsch’s complexity goals. The units I read hinted at earmarks that cried out, “Yes, we had to let pressure groups put in their two cents. So, we did include a few items they wanted, items suggesting to school kids that our culture must change to give America a newer image less tied to our past history and more connected to our current environment.” Those units revealed such ideas: ecologists want a perfectly balanced world, environmentalists claim mankind damages the world, climate control lobbyists say the sky is falling, animal rights activists choose chimps over humans, doctors are our shamans; scientists are our priests, and cultural appeasers see all religions as equal.
(www.politifact.com/…/how-much-federal-government-involved-common-core-s/)

DELIBERATE DESIGN
Common Core Curriculum emerged in 2009, totally scripted and sculpted to fit an imaginary classroom composed of imaginary, totally uniform students. However, this curriculum fits the idiom – a camel is a horse designed by a committee.

Being assured by our education policymakers, that Common Core is “out,” I now stand amazed that Tennessee Sate Standards only bear a new name but remain almost identical to CCSS. So, if we’ve been told the truth, why are parts of Common Core literature offerings still in our local County materials? The next paragraph offers a key example of possible policy perfidy. (http://www.corestandards.org/standards-in-your-state) and (https://thinkprogress.org/states-ditch-common-core-name-but-keep-common-core-ideas).

Literature disrespect
Professor Esolen of Thomas More College in New Hampshire faults the Common Core Curriculum’s for its handling of The Wind in the Willows. Surprise! Our County’s Grade 3 initial domain has 207 pages in the Read Aloud: The Wind in the Willows. Then Reader Unit 1: Classic Tales uses pages 78-104 to tell The Open Road tale also from The Wind in the Willows.

Having been an English teacher, I agree with Professor Esolen’s strong analysis. “The Common Corers get things exactly backwards. You do not read The Wind in the Willows so that you can gain some utilitarian skill for handling ‘text.’ If anything, we want our children to gain a little bit of linguistic maturity so that they can read The Wind in the Willows. That is the aim.

“It makes my gorge rise, after that breath of fresh air [from The Wind], to have to utter the words ‘Common Core Curriculum,’ and its relentless, contemptible, soul-cramping, story-killing, pseudo-sophisticated, utilitarian focus not on the beauty and truth and goodness that good art reveals, not on the imaginative worlds that good books can open up to someone simply willing to receive them as gifts on their own terms and enter into them with gratitude, but upon scrambling up supposed skills in suspicion, superficial criticism, and dissection [instructions to teachers].

“For the most important thing that any teacher of reading can do for children is to read good and great books with them and for them, with imagination and love. It is not like designing a rocket to go to the moon. It is at once far easier and far more profound than that. It is like silence, and play, and prayer.
(https://edsource.org/2017/common-core-standards-what-educators-are-saying/576979)

Therefore, in reading 3 units of Second Grade and 10 units of Third Grade of the Tennessee’s revised version of Core Knowledge, I sensed (in this TN lookalike) that CCC is alive and well and performing its quiet incursion into kids’ minds. The materials smacked of no local input or oversight which may have allowed a blind-siding of parents busily earning a living and trusting schools to keep their precious progeny safe and eagerly learning necessary facts and skills. Perhaps constraints on time or a failure of vigilance or a lack of political experience to fight against this curriculum has now created an untenable situation.

Like flattery, I found this Grade 2 and Grade 3 reading curriculum didactic, unwelcoming, unrealistic, overwhelming, and seemingly filled with cryptic purposes that I have yet to reconcile. [However, in my next installment I’ll share/suggest the religious perversity replete in this curriculum.] Hating to sound like an alarmist but having given many hours to figure out the reason and purpose behind these thousands of pages, I believe we have reached critical mass – enough to make our ad hoc committee’s point about the inappropriateness of this approach, both in its skewed grade level readability scales and in its content unfitted to children’s developmental age.

(STAY TUNED FOR PART III ABOUT RESEARCHED AND OPINIONATED OBJECTIONS TO COMMON CORE CURRICULUM)


Concerns about Common Core Curriculum – Part I

The national school board creed implies that decisions of a local board should affirm community values. Busy, hard working parents have normally trusted public schools to teach basics and essentials to prepare their precious children for academic success. However, that trust has been overlooked in our county. We have come to a crossroads of “ideology over substance.” The state and county both claimed that Common Core Curriculum was “out.” Yet, when placed side-by-side with the proffered with the non-CCC materials, stories and worksheets appeared identical.
BACKGROUND TO CURRENT ISSUE
In 2017-18, our county’s only female board of education member fielded complaints from K-3 teachers upset by being forced to teach CCC material. Before voting to retain this material, much less to advance the approach up to the 4-6th grades, she asked to review the current lessons in use but received a hostile push-back from the rest of the board willing to remain uninformed and to approve blindly an unknown curriculum. However, she bravely insisted that local oversight was needed.

That board member (a recently retired teacher), a PhD reading specialist (and teacher at two college departments of education), and I (an author of eight juvenile mystery books), formed an ad hoc committee to analyze, review, and vett about 60,000 pages of K-3 domains and units. Having no child in school and with no previous interest, knowledge, or opinion on this topic, I suddenly found myself immersed in thousands of pages. Gradually I read some of the CCC Pro/Con hubbub online and began to understand the concern of parents and teachers.

From separate study, we three committeemen strangely came to similar conclusions: the material preached a worldly, ungodly view of life. It possessed few traditional approaches and smacked less of education than of indoctrination to sociological fads and pet causes.

Over the course of my next several blogs, I hope to bring my faithful readers along on this bumpy road, starting with this Overview Report – Part I below:

AMBITIOUS GOALS ANNOUNCED

1) Learn to read Kindergarten – 2nd grade
2) Read to Learn – 3rd grade onward

As lofty as these goals appear, I saw a flood of new ones constantly added or implied in the Teacher’s Guides, Teacher Read Alouds, Unit Standards Alignment Charts, Student Readers, and Workbooks. Each domain seemed to say that from now on, “School will be the only bank from which children may legally withdraw knowledge. To accomplish that goal, every year the lessons will encompass every idea on every subject that randomly hits the mind of every contributing curriculum writer so that every child can learn everything about everything.”

Wondering about the future reality of that viewpoint, I recalled the many convoluted information-overkills, too complex for average Grade 2-3 children to retain. For this report, I randomly picked a Grade-3 example from page 20 of Reader Unit 9: The Age of Exploration: “This eldest son would inherit everything his father owned….This system is known as primogeniture. Primo means “first.” “Geniture” means born. Primogeniture is a system in which the first born son inherits everything when his father dies.” Yikes.

“Primogeniture” was neither a spelling word nor in the vocabulary list as was the grade level word, inherit. Although the first sentence clearly explained in third grade language what “inherit” means, the curriculum authors elaborated to the point of diminishing returns. Result: Overkill – a theme/technique/tactic permeating other units to demonstrate the theory of “rigorous” lessons.

BACKGROUND OF ORIGINATOR
From whose brain came this pressurized curriculum?

“E. D. Hirsch, Jr. is the founder and chairman of the Core Knowledge Foundation…A highly regarded literary critic and professor of English earlier in his career, Dr. Hirsch recalls being ‘shocked into education reform’ while doing research on written composition at a pair of colleges in Virginia. During these studies he observed that a student’s ability to comprehend a passage was determined in part by the relative readability of the text, but even more by the student’s background knowledge….This research led Dr. Hirsch to develop his comprehensive concept of cultural literacy—the idea that reading comprehension requires not just formal decoding skills but also wide-ranging background knowledge.” (https://www.coreknowledge.org/about-us/e-d-hirsch-jr/)

In graduate school, I researched Texas Academic Skills Program at four community colleges and found four different situations unfitted for a single solution. Legislators had passed a bill promoting the college-for-everyone-concept, so educators designed the TASP to determine which applicants could handle college work and which needed remediation. For several years, I taught the latter group. Unlike Hirsch, I would not dare presume from my experience to say how other states should prepare their students for higher education. Yet based on studying student writing at only two colleges, Hirsch began to formulate changes to the entire American public education system, changes that have brought turmoil to teachers, consternation to parents, and exhaustion to students.

Further, “Hirsch argued…a body of common knowledge would allow children to function as fully rounded citizens. (https://www.theguardian.com/education/…/hirsch-core-knowledge-curriculum-review.) So who decides that body of common knowledge? Do we accept his 5,000 facts, dates, and people as the model of what everyone should learn? (uvamagazine.or/articles/the_facts_of_the_matter)

And who decides what is a fully rounded citizen? We can currently rear a physically mature population, but it is not always fully developed mentally. Many youth believe that being an active citizen means “protesting” for individual rights. Where would they get such ideas? The media offers one place. However, our society steadily moves into approving such thinking and even grooms elementary kids toward that way also. For example, The Viking Read Aloud (p. 79) asked for the definition of sagas. The Read Aloud text gave as the proper answer: “…protests, like the fight for women’s rights or civil rights as the most famous sagas of American history.” Webster, Cambridge, and Macmillan Dictionaries would greatly disagree: (https://www.google.com/search?q=sagas+definition&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b-1)

A third grader of today is also encouraged to be an “activist” like Jane Goodall “…who works hard to solve a problem and change something in the world.” A whole section on Goodall touts her achievements because, “She tells others about human damage to habitats, such as hunting and pollution, and works to stop these problems.” (Reader Unit 2: Rattenborough’s Guide to Animals, p. 108)

Under similar instruction, our youth population seems not to understand that a “citizen” who wants “rights” must balance his actions with personal responsibility, discipline, and the acquisition of useful skills to support himself. Sadly, several generations have followed leaders calling themselves experts, free thinkers, or revolutionaries. These self-promoters have talked about transforming, even overthrowing, our system without first grasping the true nature of the system they want to change. Their answer to all problems eventually reveals a utopian belief in centralized-planning, a policy rooted in the idea that only a comprehensive approach can solve a complicated set of problems. Their answers also lack a historical grasp that central planning always fails in its objective. They also remain blind to the fact that multi-layered societies quite normally have problems but also breed enough talent to correct these problems from within.

Now note how Hirsch reveals his own ideology: “It’s hard to feel like a guru…I’ve been a pariah for so long…I’m practically a socialist.” His personal confessions give uneven images that concern me but should wisely keep our county board of education from rubber-stamping a curriculum based on his ideas. (http://www.politico.com/magazine/ politico50/2014/ive-been-a-pariah-for- solong.html#.WsfF4H8h3IU.)

From his own admission, I think E.D. Hirsch could not resist the temptation to revamp, revolutionize, and centralize our whole educational system. To accomplish this change, he has created extensive theories on value, knowledge, human nature, learning, transmission, society, opportunity, and consensus. In his second theory, he says, “General knowledge should be a goal of education because it makes people competent regardless of race, class or ethnicity while also making people more competent in the tasks of life.” He believed these eight theories, if practiced, “would bring a comprehensive correction to education…” He shields his idea with a caveat: “In order to succeed, one must accept the idea of hard work and be fully committed to the task at hand.” (www.newfoundations.com/GALLE)

Though Hirsch aligns more with Horace Mann’s 19th century ideal of free and democratic public education, he indicts the democratic version of the dominant progressive educational philosophy of today. He believes its “…emphasis on natural and innate ability has proven to be a failure.” Though his theories seem genuine, he is loathe to compromise or recognize the benefits of any part of previous regimens that have worked. Choosing his approach becomes an either/or decision – thus throwing the baby out with the bath. Therefore, I can’t agree that his overly ambitious Core Knowledge, as a replacement for even useful approaches, would prove the only remedy to persistently low scores. Even so, I do agree with his “hard work” statement which finally showed a sense of reality about human nature. Of course, we know no one can force someone else to work hard except by threat of failure, dismissal, imprisonment, or enslavement. It is a personal decision. (www.newfoundations.com/GALLE)

To add to the stew, Hirsch, once critical of progressive educators, is now pleased they are giving his approach some credibility. Though no fan of progressive education, Hirsch declares his Core Knowledge offspring steps away from traditional schooling, the same as the Progressives claimed theirs did. Yet, I see a logical error and a great irony! His recommended changes to today’s system carry such an inherent level of difficulty in what he calls “the lasting body of knowledge that all students must have,” it actually looks more like a return to what the Progressives hated about rigid conformity and difficult courses of study presented by 19th century authoritarian masters, the very type of schooling once called classical or traditional education.

CHANGES IN EDUCATIONAL MODELS
Progressive Education
John Dewey, a philosopher of Humanism, began the idea of progressive education in the late 1800s. He wanted students to have democratic interaction in the life of their school rather than be burdened with the rigidity, conformity, and difficulty insisted on by previous authoritarians. However, some progressive educators went in an extreme, laissez faire direction allowing students total freedom to move at their own pace and to decide their own areas of study. www.summerhillschool.co.uk/an-overview.php.) Many of us experienced a combination of traditional and progressive approaches.

Although it had some success, Progressive Public Education did not necessarily lead to progress for students. Nor did it equal automatic progression to the next natural stage. Yet we accepted even embraced many of its permutations and off-shoots along with government social programs meant to affect education positively. Below you will recognize the many attempts (and failures) at correcting flawed concepts that often only coddled students and adults alike and brought the repercussion of further flaws – the usual result of “comprehensive” programs.

EDUCATIONAL EXPERIMENTS
(Loose Chronology since 1960)
new math
make learning fun
child-centered learning
creative spelling
schools as human laboratories,
creating/guarding self-esteem
lengthen the day (no, shorten it)
stop recess to preserve time (no, restart it)
stop expensive art & music programs (no, restart them)
ensure tolerance/political correctness
social promotion to the next grade
(kick problems down the road; kids will pick up what they need)
write-across-the-curriculum reinvented as embedded Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) models
journaling thoughts ad nauseum
Gardner’s multiple-intelligences*
Common Core State Standards (CCSS)

GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS AFFECTING SCHOOLS
Free school lunch program (1946)
School integration (1954)
Supreme Court Prayer Decision (1962)**
Head Start (1964)
War on Poverty (1964)
Civil Rights Law (1965)
Title I – Primary & Secondary Schools (1965)
Improving Achievement of the Disadvantaged (1965)
Viet Nam War brought Hippie drugs/free love/college protests (1960s)
Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1971
Dept. of Education separated from HEW (1980)
Supreme Court gave illegal kids same rights to schools as citizens (1982)
War on Drugs (1982)
Immigration Reform – Amnesty to 3 million (1986)
Illegal Immigration Reform & Immigrant Responsibility Act (1996)
No Child Left Behind (2002)
Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (2010)
Illegal Immigrants Influx (overlooked- 1990s to now)
Deferred Action for Children Arrivals (DACA) (2010)
Every Student Succeeds Act (2012)

Many of the above listed educational and government programs had good intentions, held hope even promise, had moderate success, yet lacked lasting, laudable contributions. However, the CCSS approach based on the work of E.D. Hirsch and adopted in 2009, sounded like the ultimate, comprehensive scheme.

Whereas Hirsch’s critics saw the added difficulty applied to standards and curriculum as only an unwitting set-up to further separate students by ability to handle such hard materials, his followers believed his ideas would produce schools that would have no inequities or injustices.

It’s ironic that schools and governments seem helpless to resist programs that claim or expect to eradicate life’s unevenness. Ought we not to be wise enough to give greater attention to “the over-comers” of such setbacks than to “the disgruntled” who excuse themselves as vulnerable victims of society? At one time, hard times produced character, not a crop of cranks. Child-centered should not mean child-ruled.

PART II
Stay tuned for next blog entry soon


Summer Readers Stay Smart with the Picaresque’s Incidental Learning

When school lets out, textbooks get sold, turned back in, or shelved at home to collect dust. However, summer brings special readers who want a freer atmosphere full of fun but that keeps them smart and alert. Fortunately, summer provides the leisure time for just such incidental and accidental learning.

Parents know that series readers are the easiest to satisfy because such kids usually devour each book and anxiously await the next installment. The best way to hook them into reading each summer is with something untried/unread like the middle school mystery series The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple. Though written in the educational fiction genre, the IMASODES have unique stories that pose dilemmas in different geographical locations. This approach keeps the brain percolating and fills in the gaps of general knowledge often not covered by textbooks.

However, The non-reader siblings in the family may get a bit jealous, wondering, “What’s the big deal about reading?” To them, summer means a breather away from books because they find most school materials “dry, boring, or unrelatable.” Those adjectives do not spark their imaginations nor motivate their desire for further reading and research. But in their hearts, non-readers somehow suspect what they dream of doing as an adult will most likely require them to read-read-read while a kid.

I’m not saying a magic “key” exists to stir the interest of typical non-readers because they often have layers of excuses of why they dislike books. Still, I believe one helpful hint for searching for an answer can begin with a parent bringing home from the library a selection of possible good-reads, preferably something different, not always attractive to the readers in the family. I believe competition brings a good outcome for “non-readers,” especially when they find or stumble onto a series of books rejected by the “readers” of the family. Ah-ha.

Meeting a group of characters who move in and out of a series (characters unknown to their siblings) can cause a feeling of involvement, attachment, even exclusivity. Then when sequential books keep coming with some of the same characters, a happy and perhaps lifelong fiction reader may be born. An even more solidifying factor can be when non-readers discover a character they “love or hate.” In the IMASODES, boy readers like the Pollibos, a gangster family in Manhattan and Detroit; girl readers “love to hate” Vanna, the gorgeous and rich Atlanta girl who trades in lies, deceit, and sleight-of-hand tricks.

The great thing about the Picaresque mysteries is they carry a freeing motto: Have Fun. Get Smarter.™ With no judgement, kids can choose to read the stories and explore or ignore the Appendices full of definitions of Cliches & Idioms, Lookup Suggestions, and Vocabulary words.

PREMISE:
Sadly, to save money, some schools buy fewer textbooks now and are following the trend toward downloading/printing/stapling PDFs to get school content. This attempt to keep up with a changing society often means a dismissal or dismantling of valuable unchanging concepts in hardback texts. Also fewer school and public libraries promote well-written classics but opt for the current juvenile/young aduld literary canon. Now, budgets go for books about aliens from outer space, vampires from Gothic derivatives, wizards from disguised occultism, and zombies from the grave. This sacrificial premise trusts that pop books will get kids to read and that the choices offered will teach them morality, ethics, and useful skills needed in the “real world.”

Such fuzzy thinking borders on ludicrous (a good vocabulary word). The once expected result that high school graduates will have learned to think critically has been replaced by units or courses called critical thinking, mandated, taken, and checked off as “done.” What happened to practicing, applying, and polishing the fundamentals of that art to achieve success in the rest of life?

In the past 3-4 decades, school books and curricula have become replete (nay, watered-down) with rewritten history, victimology, sociology (race/gender studies meant for more mature students), progressive politics, and a pedagogy that has moved from classic content to promoting a cultural viewpoint that does not constitute education but utterly describes indoctrination, especially when it does not carry a broad alert and disclaimer so parents can monitor what’s being taught their children. Such side-stepping produces glutted administrative staffs and self-congratulatory standards of eyewash curriculum. Therefore, dogmatised, fearful, and exhausted teachers seek early retirement because of meager, unsatisfying results in spite of heavy government emphasis and funding of education.

No wonder homeschooling grows in popularity while public high schools crank out 50%+ of its graduates required to take remedial classes before admission into community college and 30%+, before matriculating university. Having taught those remedial classes stimulated me to help prevent that need. My middle school mystery series The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple grew from that concern to serve a community of parents who want to prepare their children to avoid being such a statistic.

Therefore, I designed a series with attributes that can direct readers toward success while providing them with wholesome but not whitewashed stories that are totally realistic. My series represents the late 1060s that gave us much of the real world we live in today. Although fantasy is fun for a while and monopolizes juvenile bookshelves, parents must consider what is feeding the minds of their children. Literary tastes have become a battleground between popular/unreal/disturbing content and that which is safe/helpful/exciting but maturating.

Although the Picaresque vocabulary is PSAT up into SAT level giving readers’ multiple exposures to refined word choices needed for academic tests at ages 14-18, IMASODES I & II can be easily read by kids 10-11 years old. Later IMASODES require a level of “life experience” to appreciate and heed the content. My goal for this “literature-light” offering is to give a clue of what is expected down the line for successful college comprehension and composition.


Protests Nothing New for Ima Purple

The recent radical protesters at UC, Berkeley and town halls made me realize how often hypocrisy leads a mob from an original complaint to denying freedom of speech to others with differing opinions. That refusal often morphs from uncivil into criminal behaviors.

In the following excerpt from the pre-published manuscript of IMASODE X: From Piraeus to Paris to the Pyrenees, Ima Purple stands before young 1969 Greek protesters touting communism. Risking embarrassment or being shouted down, she seizes the moment to express her opinion.

Ima walked a few blocks and boarded a bus with a marquee showing “Base Shuttle.” Full of American student and military personnel, the bus crossed through Athens. She relaxed as the passengers inside chattered, and the shoppers outside bustled along the sidewalks. The scene mimicked most large cities until on most turns, she could see the Acropolis poking out prominently in the cityscape, reminding her where she actually was.

Halfway to the base, the driver stopped at a red light. Protesters carrying signs rushed up and began to rock the bus. Fearful for the children on board, she felt the rocking motion grow intense in an obvious attempt to terrify foreign passengers. The protesters waved their signs repeating old dry mottos: “Workers Unite Against the Oppressor: Down with Capitalists & Imperialists.” But this time, they had added a new parade ending: “Americans Go Home!”

Ima thought, “Oh no. It’s déjà vu – a repeat of her 1965 Athens visit. She figured these college kids did not understand that the Greek government had invited the U.S to help protect Greece from the same communist encroachment that plagued other nations on the Balkan peninsula. Although only young adults, they maybe had not studied that nations belonging to NATO held an obligation to protect each other.

Screwing up her courage, Ima went up front and asked the driver to open the door. Just then, several protesters yelling “Americans go home,” grabbed at open windows and clung to the sides while others continued to rock the huge vehicle. When the traffic light turned green, the driver stayed put, fearing that if he dragged a protester into the intersection, newspapers would blow it into an international incident.

“Please don’t antagonize them,” said the bus driver, a sergeant from the base.
“Well, their signs and shouts have antagonized me,” declared Ima.
“Ahh-hh, Miss. Don’t mind them. They’re always protesting something. They protested the king for years; and now that he’s gone, they don’t want him back… but fear the current coups might prove worse. It’s all in the newspapers, but it’s like they don’t know how to read or listen or—”

“That’s a red herring. Something else is going on here,” Ima surmised.
“Don’t get involved. Let the Athens police handled this,” the driver advised.
“Please don’t get involved,” said a few passengers.

Seeing that these student protesters obviously wanted change, Ima refused to turn back. Surely she could reason with them. Surely with getting all their knowledge, they had gotten some understanding of how the world worked. Surely, they knew that change must come slowly or else revolution would take over at the high price of public pain and concomitant chaos.

This scene either afforded a chance to conduct themselves as responsible adults or to overflow with immature frustration at a conundrum that will not bring an easy satisfying answer.

Ima wanted to persuade them kindly but logically – to focus on some issues needing improvement instead of destroying everything which would inadvertently include all they still loved about Greek society. She pondered what to do or say…searching for some way to redirect their angst and anger…forming alternatives to prevent their youthful discouragement turning into violence?

Standing at the front of the bus, Ima had a quick flashback to her Hyde Park speech in London. This time would be different. With a quick prayer to push down her critical nature and to invoke critical thought, not provoke the crowd by adding fuel to a rising fire, she motioned to the driver to open the door. Shaking his head, he reluctantly complied.

Ima went down to the bottom step and looked out at the noisy, disgruntled group. Searching for sympathetic eyes but unable to command anyone’s attention, she brought a finger to her mouth in a teacher’s gesture and whispered, “Shhhh!”

The crowd quieted slightly. Then, as if given full attention, Ima tried her hand at the Socratic method or at least her version of it. Before long, it sounded like a mixture of instruction from a Matthew Henry commentary and warning from a Jonathan Edwards sermon. “Come let us reason together:
• Do I rightly perceive you are well-educated young Greeks?
• If so, do you not celebrate Greece as the birthplace of democracy?
• Did Plato not describe how to organize The Republic?
• Did Aristotle not proclaim the beauty of culture in his Poetics?
• Did Socrates not teach you to seek truth by asking questions?
• Would you denounce, even discard your Golden Age philosophers?
• Yet did not your superstitions bring Greece down in ancient times?
• Were you not burdened with a pantheon of demanding pagan gods?
• So confused, you even had a statue to an unknown god?
• Does not history tell how the Apostle Paul explained the unknown God?
• Did your ancestors not embrace Jesus and preach His gospel?
• Are you not proud that the New Testament was first written in Greek?
• If so, for what lost or desired freedom do you now protest?
• Did you forget that whoever is freed by the Lord is free indeed?
• Given Christian freedom, would you revert to slavery of communist dogma?
• Having tasted such freedom, would you accept rules that control you?
• Would you now make statues to new gods of people like Marx and Lenin?
• Would you dignify, even magnify their philosophies as worthy?
• Are you deceived to think damnable goals can result in lofty results?
• Can you approve their goals gained only by killing millions?
• Have you joined those who agree, ‘the ends justify the means’?
• Do you not have eyes to see their goals will reduce your great nation?
• Do you not see what Tito has done to the rest of the Balkans
• Do you not see what the Soviets have done to Eastern Europe?
• Did China free its people by equalizing them e.g.doctors made into orderlies?
• Did a misguided desire for freedom make you protest King Constantine?
• Have you forgotten such kings only have temporal reign over you?
• Or, wanting to be free of monarchy, do you now embrace anarchy?
• Do you prefer being slaves or serfs as your ancestors were most likely?
• Would you so quickly put yourselves under authority that is not Greek?
• Have you forgotten what you once knew?
• Who has bewitched you?”

When Ima stopped, one student approached the steps and spoke for the group. “Lady, we know all that, but we care nothing about the past nor do we worry about the future. When we decided a king was an outdated notion, we got rid of him. Besides, he didn’t care about us or the poor people or even democracy for that matter. We’re neither medieval serfs wanting his protection nor blind men asking for his guidance. And we don’t need you to warn us about Marx or preach to us about God. We know all that too.”

“Miss, you need to get your facts right. You’re fighting an old cause,” said a seemingly articulate Greek man sitting on a bus stop bench off to the side. He closed his newspaper, stood up, and glared at her.

“Then why does that so-called old cause keep showing its ugly head?”
“You don’t understand. History moves quickly here in Greece. The king is gone, and the communists are probably too few to take over parliament. What these protesters actually want is a good thing – to get rid of the military government that rules us now. Don’t you Americans read newspaper?” He shook his finger in her face.

Ima blushed from tip to toe. Maybe she had gone off on a tirade without knowing all the facts. Wanting to disappear from the present humiliation, Ima again let her mind zoom back weeks in time and hundreds of miles in distance…back to the Hyde Park soapbox scene…back to the same question: could she ever stop the habit of being a critic instead of a critical thinker! Still she wrestled on when to analyze and when to stay quiet? Or had she judged correctly?

Chagrined, Ima decided to suffer this disappointment in silence and not bore her gracious hosts at dinner this evening. Nobody need know about today’s failure, if indeed, failure were its proper title. She could admit to needing more up-to-date information but still stubbornly clung to the feeling that her conclusion might approximate the truth


Educational Fiction Fills Knowledge Gaps

Reading is the door to deepening one’s general knowledge or interest in a particular topic. Most citizen, academic, and practical activities depend on an informed membership who reads proficiently. As an educational fictional author, I have developed a way for juveniles and young adults to improve their reading and comprehension skills through my middle school mystery series The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple. It can concurrently refresh their common knowledge or introduce new information to absorb.

You might consider me an informal/incidental/accidental learning source or simply “a voice crying in the wilderness,” one who has privately attacked the student competency issues often reported in news and journal articles.

The Picaresque provides realistic stories about a young teacher-turned-detective whose adventures take her to diverse geographical places where she meets rascals and rogues determined to thwart her investigations and noble causes. But her adventures hold advantages to enjoy casually or to use as a catch-up method. Designed as educational fiction, the series subtly builds word skills and encourages critical thinking needed to solve mysteries. It offers a choice of reading styles with a motto, Have Fun. Get Smarter.™

With no judgment implied, the motto means readers can either scan the imaginary tales of recent history, vicariously visit new locations depicted on enclosed illustrated maps, or grow exponentially by accessing the Appendices. In educational fiction, enrichment material can be ignored or explored. The Appendices serve as back-of-the-book answers. There awaits a wealth of information beyond the mystery:

  • biographies of main characters to learn about possible, fatal family flaws
  • clichés/idioms/ phrases explanations to see how they add color to sentences
  • lookup suggestions in categories to help recall allusions mentioned  in the story
  • vocabulary words (at PSAT level) to facilitate new ways of expressing ideas.

Structure of the Series

Italics in the content serve as neurological triggers when the eye hits them, but new words are also supported by ample context clues.  These can enhance a reader’s enjoyment or simply fade into the background, again by choice.

Content maturity and moral supposition grow from book to book. The series also moves from easy to difficult allusions and vocabulary, a style that subtly grooms readers to handle more complex concepts and social issues introduced in later stories. If taken in sequence, these stories allow readers to follow the progression of main characters facing ever more serious topics.

Set up to help build memory of events, a Prologue reminds readers what has transpired in a previous story. An Epilogue serves as a denouement for characters or suggests events in the next Imasode. The books range up to 25 chapters, with story texts from 50,000 to 80,000 words. Many text paragraphs have gone through the Flesch-Kinkaid Grade, Fog, and Ease of Understanding Scales.

The Storyline

Ímagine Purple, a young teacher with a secret desire to be a sleuth, has the chance to pursue her wish after her pilot husband gets assigned to Vietnam. Rather than have a pity party, she assigns herself to see the world from Newfoundland to New Delhi or as long as her money lasts. She especially anticipates an early stop in Manhattan to visit her famous father, a Broadway musical star, and her best old friend Riina Feingold, a budding actress.

However, after spending much of the 1960s on military bases abroad, Ima naïvely steps back into civilian society not full of fun,  family, and friends, but of tumultuous change. Culture has moved men along from marching for civil rights to getting ready to walk on the moon; from wearing pinstriped suits to tie-dyed bell-bottoms; from melodic ballads to heavy metal music.

In some ways Ima feels a bit unprepared, even un-cool because other young people her age are busy protesting everything she thought normal in life. Protests favoring drugs, free love, revolution, and animas toward corporations that employed their parents who could then provide savings for their kids’ education. Even so, the most mystifying outcome of these protests was a revival of Nietsche’s misguided theme that “God is dead.”

She hopes her long trip will afford her opportunity to solidify her detective method which might also help her find her own reason to protest. However, as a new believer, Ima makes typical “do-gooder” mistakes and jumps headlong into “saving the world.” Vacillating between being too judgmental and too lenient with others, she befriends rascals, slips into pitfalls, and ignores her own need for discernment. More like a character from the classics, she gradually gains wisdom and even seeks divine help arranging clues to solve criminal cases as well as life’s mysteries.

Although outwardly a grown young lady, Ima often drifts into daydreaming and introspection, not unlike teenagers. She talks to herself to let readers know about her continued search and stretch to full maturity but dares not share this inner battle with story characters. They need her to remain the glue that holds the picaresque together.

Ima’s Investigation Method

When very young, Ima read lots of mysteries and even created her own crazy investigative technique: find a random detail, turn it upside down, pull it inside out, throw it up against the wall, watch it fall to the floor, stomp on it, and then hope it squirts out a clue or suspicion that leads to a real fact. But now grown and on a new adventure, Ima starts to remold her simple method to resemble how great detectives found their insights.

Sherlock Holmes used deduction often starting with a theory before he had all the facts. Ima felt disappointed that Holmes used cocaine when bored with or blocked on a case. She disrespected this vice as a device to avoid hard work.  In contrast, Detective Hercule Poirot fastidiously collected lots of details, used induction to form a theory, and employed “every little gray cell” in his brain. Jane Marple also used induction, nosing her way into police business and inducing witnesses to reveal more than they intended. Nancy Drew practiced what Ima called drewduction, whereby she commandeered pals to help investigate crimes, visited odd places to search out clues, and mercilessly pestered suspects to tell the truth.

Having studied all these approaches and even taught them to her students, Ima began to develop her own method called reduction, reducing details down to the lowest common denominator like with fractions.  Although a champion observer, detail finder, and list maker, she still often wrestled with putting everything together to solve a pressing mystery.

Why write educational fiction? The rigorous demands of the genre produce little competition.

Having taught fourth graders who easily mastered tasks and then later teaching remedial adults who scored below the 4th grade level in language arts, I saw a storm brewing. Even newspapers are written on a 6th grade level. My heart broke to see adults unable to grasp content designed for them. So lacking the fundamentals to clarify their own meanings, they struggled to express in a coherent manner topics they had chosen and for which they obviously felt strong passion. Their faces showed great failure and frustration, seeming to wonder why they had returned to school. Admittedly, so did I.

Personally, as a slow-learner, high-achiever type, I needed to push myself al through school. Strangely, my adult students seemed at the start, worn out and with “no push” left, if ever they had any. I found them underexposed to history, geography, politics, and literature but overexposed to pop culture which would rarely help them get a job except in show business. There had to be another approach for me to address the emptiness I saw in my class. Although many of my students lacked the funds and freedom to travel, I had grown up having lots of adventures and wondered if moving away from home would help me expand my horizons. Since writers constantly hear the mantra, “write what you know,” I mulled over how to combine my love of travel with the lack of advanced literacy presenting before my eyes.

Culling files at the start of the New Year, I uncovered articles I wrote in 1991 about Texas Academic Skills Program (TASP) aimed at improving college entrance scores but it obvious failure at this goal. Now, nationwide, over 50% of high school graduates must take remediation before matriculating university.

The current cannon of fiction about aliens, demons, fantasy, monsters, vampires, wizards, and zombies often glamorizes death or offers unreal escapes from problems.  And the non-fiction list regularly covers stories of victimization, abuse, or sexual issues which can exhaust the most avid reader. Seeing these offerings, I thought there surely existed room for realistic stories that dealt wholesomely yet openly with subject matter, perhaps stories to stimulate curiosity about recent history or adventures to entertain like only mysteries can. Both of those appealed to me because mysteries can often lure the most jaded or indifferent person.

While living in Newfoundland, I found a great kickoff point for my journey of creating The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple. Beginning with several test readers, Isettled on two (a girl, 11 and a boy, 10) who stuck with me through IMASODE IX before they graduated. The girl was African American and influenced me to keep an Atlanta character I had planned to dismiss; the boy, now in Olympic swimming trials, named my episodes, the Imasodes. They both wrote helpful reports and grew with the difficulty in the series.

Conclusion

Although these books target a broad audience of middle-school to young adult readers, especially those reaching for advanced literacy needed for college entrance, the first two books are easy enough for a 10 year-old. Even so, the challenges and entertainment of The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple hold potential for tweens on the verge of losing interest in schoolbooks, for teens hungry to understand unresolved world issues, for adults who want to refresh their readiness for college, or for elders who simply like nostalgic stories. For more information, the website (imaginepurple.com) expounds on the project. To show the range of topics, the first eight are now available in print with sixteen planned:

IMASODE  I:        Last Passenger Train Across Newfoundland

IMASODE II:       The Scary Ferry to Nova Scotia

IMASODE III:      Mary Jane of Canton, Maine

IMASODE  IV:     Mayhem in Manhattan

IMASODE V:        Anti-Belle of Antebellum Atlanta

IMASODE VI:      Danger Starts in Detroit

IMASODE VII:    Escapades in Estonia

IMASODE VIII:    Aunt Lottie’s London

IMASODE IX:      Sovereign’s Sunburst Auction in Germany (sent to the publisher)

IMASODE X:       From Piraeus to Paris to the Pyrenees  (in draft)

 


Writing Through to the Truth – Serious Subjects Demand

Mid 20th century writing guru Mina Shaughnessy taught a maxim: “Write through to the truth.” Her words not only echo in my head as a published author but also haunt me when I have a serious issue to resolve. Along with her wise advice, I have fixated on another principle both in teaching and now in writing: “Lead the Reader.”

Whoever decides to read your work only gets a glimmer of its content from the headline. So hang in there with me. I want to lead you through my journey, from creating a story to building a concept.

For over 3 years I have been revising IMASODE IX: The Sovereign’s Sunburst Auction in Germany, the rudiments of which I started long ago. It has been a tough assignment but a satisfying process as described below.

In the 1960s, I bought a unique sunburst brooch at an Pujabi handcraft shop near where I worked in Manhattan. The piece looked ancient and filled with mystery. I gave it to my mom for Christmas but never forgot about it. When she died, I took it back as a memento. Decades later, I decided to build a story around it.

As my family’s 1999 Christmas gift, I invented an evening mystery with a group of characters to be played by my relatives in Texas. With this ploy, I hoped to work out problems in the plot line. After I handed out character biographies and background materials on the Sovereign’s Sunburst, we gathered again in the spring of 2000.

Everyone came costumed to the hilt! Yet, when I passed out a list of questions to ask other characters and actions to take when finding out details on what I tagged as an ancient artifact, a complete traffic jam occurred. The characters crisscrossed the room asking other characters about any secrets possessed about the curious item, secrets that might provide information to fit this evening’s puzzle.

Painfully they tried to figure out what I meant for them to do. However, their perplexity and confusion actually helped me to see the flaws and possibilities in my construct.

Setting that idea aside, in 2007, I began my middle school mystery series The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple and managed the list of adventures to include the Sovereign’s Sunburst plot line as a later offering. Because my books progress in complexity, both in story content and vocabulary used, this one I knew needed to be way down the line as readers matured into the series.

Transferring the story from a casual Texas evening to a formal weekend auction at a castle in Germany proved my first best step. That also gave me the idea to place German words and phrases into the story causing the reader to feel like an ESL student immersed in a new location. As a non-German speaker, I would not focus on grammar or syntax but would simply give the young reader a chance to see peculiarly spelled words sprinkled into the text. Those two decisions set the Imasode’s skeleton:

As a little child with German heritage and vague memories of family reunions, I recall some relatives who stood off, talking in German. When grown, I suspected they had discussed disturbing war issues. Setting my story in Germany caused me to reach so deeply into my uneasy feelings about WWII, I had to face my own weariness about the Nazi era. I became more aware of how WWI led Germany to an unsteady government ripe for a tyrant like Hitler to play savior. I reviewed more of his plans to annihilate Romany (gypsies) along with Jews. Although Hitler had positive ideas like the VW (Kdf car), city-planning, autobahns, and affordable radios, I could not dismiss the human deception of Aryan lies he fed to the Hitler Youth and common folks.

Since a Punjabi prince (introduced in IMASODE V) and his royal family would figure in as guests in the story’s device of a weekend auction, I researched possible Indian roots to the Sovereign’s Sunburst artifact and found a kaleidoscope of eras invading the story.

Since The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple is in the educational fiction genre, I thought this expansive storehouse of miscellaneous history could fit serious young fiction readers at this point of series because my two test readers (both home-schooled) had no problem with the difficult topics nor venue changes. In fact the boy test reader thought this book my best yet. I figured the wealth of incidental information in this particular Imasode could fill in gaps that public school revisionists have left out of student history books.

Therefore, set deep into the Palatine Forest full of castles and fairytales, this story lets the reader join the auction attendees as they bathe in research and suppositions on many topics besides German history:
• Mongols and Sultans invading India
• Punjabi Jattis becoming nomads (miscalled gypsies)
• Rome’ and the Middle East cross pollinating cultures
• Innocent III beautifying Rome
• Medieval feudalism lasting centuries
• Crusade soldiers (and serfs) serving as vassals to their lords
• Serfs becoming guilders who built towns
• Guilders forming a new middle class
• Christians following their noble’s beliefs began reform
• Protestant Reformation bringing a split from the Catholic Church
• East India Tea company giving rise to the English Raj
• Queen Victoria reigning in peace as Empress of India
• England giving India its Independence in 1947
• Dividing up Punjabi land & Hindus from Muslims formed Pakistan

You might wonder, how all of these issues can possibly relate to one story? Because writers depend on the imprint of their muse, I found fascinating the juxtaposition of such rich details and wanted to see for myself how my research could merge into a single story. Fiction allows such expanse.

For example, Just as we might be amidst a hurricane, an election, a holiday season, a riot, a war, or a job loss, we might make strong comments on such events or let them flow in and out of our conversations with varying levels of interest. But mostly, we would keep moving on in our lives as life in general whirled around us.

Look for IMASODE IX: The Sovereign’s Sunburst Auction in Germany, sometime mid-2017.

 

imamapixpfalzerwaldnew


Writing Workshop for Detroit Middle Schoolers at Elmwood Park Library

On August 18th, Elmwood Park Branch of the Detroit Public Library System held a workshop for young writers aged 10-14 to learn more about “How to Turn Your Adventures into Stories.” Beth Fine, Tennessee author of the middle school mystery series Picaresque of Ímagine Purple, taught the workshop.

Wanting attendees to grasp how observation is a writer’s main tool for capturing details and how details add authenticity to characters and settings, Fine gave a brief autobiography and a summary of a book she wrote in the fourth grade. The kids recognized story details that came from her real life as a Texas tomboy living near a bayou in the woods. Thus they learned a writer’s first rule: “Write what you know!”

Fine used a technique called wagon-wheeling to display the story’s major details and to explore some variations. For instance, when the main character disappeared, the class analyzed how the writer had set a mystery for readers to wonder if the tomboy ran away, escaped to a secret hiding place, got lost, drowned, or was kidnapped.

Then, some kids shared a personal adventure, wagon-wheeled it, and practiced borrowing outside hints to expand their own concept. Fine encouraged the children to resist a stiff, please-others attitude in their writing and to let their imaginations fly freely to release the story within.

Pat Walker, the juvenile/teen librarian, insured a successful workshop by inviting good readers and writers to attend. Knowing how to win over kids, she also provided juice and snacks at the half-time. That really helped because the building air conditioning had broken down. We all did our share of sweating but lost only one kid out of ten.

Those who persevered to the end received a detective’s magnifying glass, a Picaresque E-book, and a label of the mystery series motto: Have Fun. Get Smarter.™ Fine also held a drawing and gave away IMASODES I & II* to the winner. The afternoon proved Elmwood Park has kids eager to learn. http://www.detroitpubliclibrary.org/branch/elmwood-park

IMASODE I: Last Passenger Train Across Newfoundland
IMASODE II: Scary Ferry to Nova Scotia

 

 


Reading for Fun – Are you nuts?

KID: Reading for fun, are you kidding? Those words sound mismatched to me. I’d rather have a tooth pulled than read a book for fun.

NEIGHBOR: I hope you brush your teeth a lot so going to the dentist is fun for you.

KID: Not really. But, brushing teeth and going to the dentist are CRAZY things that only parents or teachers talk about, right?

NEIGHBOR: Maybe grownups say such things because we were once kids too and didn’t want cavities.

KID: Yeah, but I mean grownups also talk about such CRAZY ideas like “reading for fun.” They don’t have to deal with schoolyard bullies who’d knock out your teeth for saying that…so you’d end up at the dentist anyway.

NEIGHBOR: Man, the bullies in your school sound worse than when I was a kid. Back then at recess,  I proved the best at doing cartwheels through double ropes. The girls teased me mercilessly, mostly out of jealousy, I think. So, I decided to become the only girl on the boys’ ball team at recess.

KID: Aw, you’re pulling my leg. You didn’t do that?

NEIGHBOR: Sure did. I wouldln’t allow anyone to tell me how the cow ate cabbage because I was plenty good at sports.

KID: Still that’s not the same as saying you liked to “read for fun.” If any kid fessed up to that now,  some bully would beat him up.

NEIGHBOR: Sounds like kids today need more power to squash such trouble-makers. You know that bullies usually run when resisted. Maybe that’s what we discovered when growing up and reading for fun. Treasure Island and Huckleberry Finn challenged our fears so we could win against our enemies. Reading let us take mental vacations… meet new people… visit strange lands…even learn foreign words. Strangely, we began to feel smarter and more powerful…almost like superheroes in comic books. No one would dare stop a superhero from reading for fun…if that’s what he chose to do.

KID: Well, not me. I only read when I have to. Except maybe comic books. I do like those.

NEIGHBOR: Boy, I did too. On vacation, my parents let us buy comic books. Although most kids had boxes of Superman or Captain Marvel under their beds, I wanted to be different, so I always bought Plastic Man because he could stretch his arms around corners.

KID: Boy, I wish could stretch that far.

NEIGHBOR: Well, even if your arms can’t stretch farther than your reach, your brain sure can. Reading for fun can stretch it as far as you can imagine.

KID: Won’t that make my head hurt?

NEIGHBOR: Maybe a little, but what if it made you grow more powerful in class and on the school yard? That’s what the mystery series The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple is all about. You have a choice: Have Fun. Get Smarter.™ You can simply go along with Ima to solve the mysteries or follow hidden clues in character biographies in the back of the book.

KID: Back of the book! That sounds like school.

NEIGHBOR: Maybe a little, but what if it’s a new way for you to jump ahead and to discover secrets? If so, I figure by “reading for fun,” you can’t keep yourself from learning, either by accident or intention.

The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple by Beth Fine is an Educational Fiction, Middle School Mystery Series with teachable moments. The books are Grade Level and Age-Appropriate.


Summer Reading II – Kids’ Viewpoint

Summer Reading - Kid's Viewpoint

KIDS KORNER | Forced Summer Reading is For The Birds (from kids’ viewpoint)

Hooray, it’s summer. Time to kick off my shoes, wiggle my toes in the grass, go swimming, play outside, stay up late, read comic books, and…glare at a stack of books someone picked out for the dreaded summer reading program. After a school year of having to read two or three books per month, I’ve been told to digest two or three books per week?

Whoever invented the summer reading program idea maybe thought it a good way to keep kids out of trouble. What grown-ups don’t understand is most kids never dream about getting into trouble. We’re too smart for that. We’ve figured out that doing what’s right brings privilege, but doing what’s wrong brings punishment. Who wants to take that bumpy road?

Perhaps long ago, nice librarians and teachers decided to start a summer reading program. They weren’t sadists who hated kids but simply book-buffs who loved to read and hoped kids would also. But, when some tyrant decided to make the summer reading program mandatory, my enthusiasm for summer reading evaporated.

That’s strange because I used to love to read. I looked forward to Monday nights when the library stayed open for adults to check out books. While my mom looked for the latest best-seller, I went to see if a special bottom shelf in the children’s department sported a new orange biography. Those books had 200 pages divided into short chapters which reported the adventures of great Americans like John Smith, Pocahontas, George Washington, Ben Franklin, Abigail Adams, Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Dolly Madison, Daniel Boone, Abe Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, Louisa May Alcott and others.
It surprises me how I still remember their stories. Perhaps that’s because I got to choose the books for my own summer reading program. So, why hasn’t anyone ask me to make a list lately? I would have written down only books I’ve wondered about or that sounded interesting like the new mystery series called The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple. If so, I’d be as happy as I was when reading those orange biographies from the bottom shelf.

-Beth Fine

Author of a popular new mysteries series for middle schoolers, The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple http://picaresqueofimaginepurple.com

Reprinted by permission from Nashville Christian Family Magazine.