We Can Simplify Our Student Grading System

In the works, I have two different questions for you:

  1. ‘Do Medium-sized Egos Really Exist?’, and
  2. ‘Should Law Enforcement Officers Be Allowed To Use The “I was afraid for my life” Defense?’

Both of these require some preparation/research, but I hope to have them ready before too long.  For now, I’ve chosen a lighter topic about a scheme that, because it’s not being implemented as designed, could well be simplified.

Some Background

When I started school, we got one grade, from A to F (I never learned why E was left out), to represent our mastery of the subject.  Then, at some point, they introduced a separate grade for effort (from 1 to 3) and another for conduct (also A through F without the E); these were promoted as independent variables that could give more insight into the performance of one’s child.  I soon had reason to question the independence of these variables.

What’s The Best Grade You Can Get

Conventional wisdom tells us that the highest grade one can get would now be an A1A.  I’m not here to discuss the merits of bad behavior, so we will focus only on the first two symbols.  To me, it was obvious that an A3 would be more desirable.  Here’s why –

Suppose it’s a leap year and you are betting on track events at the Summer Olympics.  In the first heat, the first place runner comes in with a time of, say, 4:00.00, and at the end is visibly spent (lying on the ground, breathing heavily, and sweating profusely).  Her grade would clearly be an A1.  In the final heat, the winner has the exact same time but isn’t even breathing hard.  I would give her an A3 (keep in mind that it is not uncommon for runners at big events to pace themselves – save some effort if they can afford to, for later heats).  Of course, both runners advance to the finals.  Again, conventional wisdom gives the higher grade to the first runner but tell the truth – which one are you betting your hard-earned money on in the finals?

So you can see what grade I was trying for.  But the truth is teachers don’t give A3 grades, even if you never turn in your homework.  This isn’t a case of political correctness (whereby we fashion our remarks based on the possible objections of imaginary people with hyper thin skins or real fools priding themselves on how easily offended they can be), but another common problem in the political arena whereby people refuse to let facts get in the way of their idea of the way things should work in their perfect (but grossly oversimplified) world.  In their view, the very fact that you got an A proves that you were trying really hard because hard honest work is what made America great.  The problem is once you make that link between those previously independent variables (effort and results), then you are really only working in a one-dimensional world and don’t need two grades to adequately describe it.

Looking From The Other Side

But you may be saying to yourself “Silent, you are the anomaly!  Only the very rare person who can find a task at which they can succeed without unbelievable effort would have the luxury of taking your position on this topic”.  If you really think failure is the norm, then answer this.  Do you really think someone who, for whatever reason, didn’t meet the minimum requirements for success in this class, would prefer an F1 over an F3?  From what I’ve observed, the opposite has usually been the case.  If you give him an F1 you are saying “bless his little heart, he gave it his best shot but is just too stupid to make the grade”.  Giving him an F3 gives him an alibi (or more accurately, reinforces the excuses he’s been giving even without your blessing) that he’s really very, very intelligent, but just didn’t put forth the effort.

There are two ways to cure this problem: we could start treating effort and results as the independent variable they are (which is probably too agonizing a task for most teachers) or just stop giving the effort grade.  I propose the latter.  What do you think?

“What’s Love Got To Do With It”

One song I didn’t mention in my recent post on my favorite songs was this song by Tina Turnerlyrics, video. The omission was deliberate; this is one of those songs that rise and fall on the chart as my mood and situation change, and since, as I’ve hinted, it’s not a topic I’m any good at, a rise in the chart usually signals less-than-fair weather. Well, this song has again risen to the Number 1 spot and is expected to get a lot of play over the next several weeks. Ordinarily this would be none of your business, except that it could have even a long-term impact on this blog (or could possibly blow over in a relatively short period of time).  We’ll see.  Get back to work!

“These Are A Few Of My Favorite . . .” Songs

We have a lighter topic today – music.  I’ve recently made changes in my list of favorite songs, so I’ll talk about some of them, and then try to find an explanation for a pattern I’ve noticed as people get older.

The List

  1. Holding my number one spot for decades now has been Barbra Streisand’s version of “People”lyrics, video, created in 1964 for the Broadway musical “Funny Girl”.  I’m not actually sure I qualify as the type of person in the song (I may have come from a long line of rugged individuals living in a Love desert) but when I see those people together, I feel what could be envy.
  2. Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides, Now”lyrics, video, which she recorded on her 1969 album “Clouds”, just moved up the charts to the number two spot that was vacated maybe a year ago by Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall”lyrics, video from their 1979 rock opera “The Wall”. As a teacher, I could just imagine my whole class singing “We don’t need no education” in unison and it just struck me as a bit funny.  Since that song became the Republican’s unofficial theme song, I find it more depressing than funny.

I’ve always liked “Both Sides, Now”, and similar to the story about “The Blind Men and the Elephant”, it shows how a change in perspective can enrich your life – or not.

  1. Next is “Climb Every Mountain”lyrics, video, which Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote for their 1959 musical “The Sound of Music”. I’m partial to the version that was dubbed by Margery MacKay in the 1965 movie starring Julie Andrews.  Actually, I liked the whole movie, especially the songs Julie sang, like the title songvideo and even the song that inspired the title of this post, “My Favorite Things”video.
  2. Although the beat goes on, today’s last list entry is number four, “Hotel California”lyrics, video which, unlike the others, shot toward the top of my chart immediately after it was released as the title track from an Eagles’ album in late 1976 (even though by then I had already left of the state). I really enjoy the symbolism, and like many, recognize it as an allegory about hedonism and greed. Other great songs on that album include “New Kid In Town”video and “Life In The Fast Lane”audio.

While the top spots on my list are fairly stable, as one goes down the list, that becomes less true as a song’s ranking starts to depend more on my mood.  Looking down the list, you will see newer songs from artists like Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga working their way up, as well as other classics like “The Sound of Silence”video by (Paul) Simon & (Art) Garfunkel (which I had heard before watching the 1967 film “The Graduate”, but the two together made an impression on me and that song remained near the top of my list for quite a while).  My favorite country singers are probably Kenny Rogers (my favorites being “The Gambler”video and “Coward of the County”video) and then Garth Brooks.  I prefer my classical music to be lively, like Rossini’s “William Tell Overture”full, finale, which some of you may remember from “The Lone Ranger”, and “1812 Overture”full, finale.

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The full title is “The Year 1812, festival overture in E♭ major, Op. 49”. Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky wrote it in 1880 to commemorate Russia’s defense against Napoleon’s invading army (any resemblance to the War of 1812 between the British and the new United States of America is purely coincidental). More recently, the song was used in commercials for Quaker Oats Puffed Wheat, among other things.
I have also long been a sucker for Christmas music (I could enjoy these songs in June). Probably my earliest favorite, first sung the Christmas Eve of 1818 in Austria (I wasn’t actually around, then), was “Silent Night”video (surprise, surprise), which was unseated for a short time by “The First Noel”video, but now they both compete with a host of other examples of the genre (with “Joy To The World”video usually having a slight lead).

The Question

As a youngster, I noticed that people of all ages seem to restrict their musical listening to those songs that were popular when they were in their teens. At the time, I postulated that once the music retention area of the brain ‘hardens’, about the time one reaches adulthood, it is impossible to retain or appreciate new songs. Now that I’ve seen this phenomenon “from both sides now”, I’ve reworked my theory.  For me, one change that has occurred over the years is that I just don’t (have the opportunity to?) listen to as much music as I used to.  When I’m wrapped in thought, I prefer the sounds of silence.  And when I am around others, they rely on their old favorite, but limited sources.  This ties in with my earlier discussions How Large Is Your Universe and How We Lose Our Grip On Reality, and could be considered a sign of decay.  But it doesn’t have to happen.  If one were to diversify their sources, as suggested, they would know that there is very good music being produced every day, just as it was when they were young.  But then they would have to find something else to complain about.

The Art Of Communication

I like the definition of communication given by www.businessdictionary.com that talks about a process of reaching mutual understanding, where participants not only exchange information but also create and share meaning. This is a process that obviously takes more than one person. That point was apparently lost on me as a child.  At that time, there were quite a few of my fellow (North) Americans that spoke Spanish in Southern California, and yet when it came time to choose a language to study in school, as required, and having a choice of Spanish, French, German, and possibly Italian and Japanese, I picked German because I wanted to be different.  I studied the language for six years and like to think I was decent at it, but then again, there were no Germans (to speak of) around to contradict me.  Many years have gone by and I can still count past twelve, but some might argue that I didn’t get the most bang for my educational buck.  Now I am surrounded by people in Southern Florida, some who have been visiting for over fifty years, who still have trouble with English and don’t understand why everybody here doesn’t just speak Spanish.  But I am not the only one who has struggled with the concept.

Several weeks ago I saw a gentleman walking down the street wearing a T-shirt with the following sign: i 8 Sum Pi

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To translate, the first symbol is the square root of negative one, which technically doesn’t exist, but is more commonly represented by the small letter “i” as the basis for all imaginary numbers.  The second expression, two to the third power (2x2x2), reduces to eight.  The third, the capital Greek letter Sigma, is seldom seen alone because it represents the sum of the sequence that follows.  The last symbol is the small Greek letter Pi, which has come to be known as the most famous irrational (meaning it never ends and never repeats) constant – representing, among other things, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.
The common name of each of these symbols resembles an unrelated English word, so the expression can be pronounced “I ate some pie”.   But what was the wearer really trying to say?  Mathematically, the expression is meaningless, so its sole purpose seems to be to announce to a select audience what was on his lunch menu.  Maybe the fewer the people who knew that he went off of his diet, the better, so this may be an attempt at a confession without guilt.  While that seemed harmless enough, it reminded me of another obscure message I had seen before.

While driving down the road ages ago, a Jeep passed me that had the following array of small international maritime signal flags displayed on its back window:International maritime signal flags Each of these flags, which are used by navies and merchant marines around the world, has a name taken from the phonetic alphabet.  Along the top row is Foxtrot, Uniform, Charlie, and Kilo.  On the second row sits Yankee, Oscar, and Uniform again.  Individually, each flag has a meaning (for example, Oscar means someone has fallen overboard), or in small groups they could represent short code words.  Sometimes they just represent the letter at the beginning of their name.

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If you want to try to impress your friends at parties, I just found out the term for that (the naming of letters in an alphabet so that the name begins with that letter) is called acrophonyD.
Although I thought the Jeep owner’s words were clear enough, I wasn’t quite sure about his/her message.  Was this message for general audiences, in which case the owner is an ineffective coward, but was probably getting a chuckle imagining himself (or herself) smarter than every other person on the road and able to insult them with impunity. Or did s/he have some problem specifically with sailors? Maybe that’s what s/he wanted to be when they grew up, but either got seasick too easily or didn’t work well with others in confined spaces, and so was taking their frustrations at his/her own inadequacies out on the very group they wanted to be part of.  Who knows?  I followed the car into a parking lot and after s/he went inside I carved the phrase “Roger, out!”D into their back tire, which went flat when I applied the punctuation.

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Although based on a true story, the ending of the last paragraph was changed to better illustrate the range of possible consequences one should expect for one’s actions.  The truth is that when s/he turned into the parking lot, I just kept driving.  I decided they couldn’t possibly have been talking to me.  (Luke 23:34D comes to mind.)

In radio communications, “Roger” simply means the message was received and understoodD. It does not mean agreement. “Out”, as I’ve mentioned beforeA, means “and this conversation is finished.”.

Out Of Africa – Primitive Communication

On a recent trip to Africa I learned that males of apex predator species share certain characteristics.  For example, our local guide explained that a male lion’s roar can be heard at least five miles away and is used to communicate their ownership of a territory.

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Although not my guide, Wayne Staab explained it well at the Hearing Health & Technology Matters website 
Similarly, while climbing to see the mountain gorillas, we were told that the silverback’s chest pounding display had similar purposes (see the “Gorilla Communication” page at Gorillas-World). I believe I may have found the simplest human adaptation of this principle.

A visitor to Africa will also learn not expect the same level of amenities to which they have become accustomed in most of Europe and America. I’ve seen many foods (i.e. English muffins & hamburgers), and even musical instruments (like the violin and guitar) that bore only a basic resemblance to their same-named counterparts elsewhere. Even toilets tend to be much simpler than one might be used to, sometimes being no more than a porcelain-lined hole in the ground.  At one stop a friend pointed out what was labeled a urinal, but had no fixture at all. The sign was outside the entrance of a small “room” consisting of four concrete walls extending slightly more than waist high around the perimeter of a rectangular concrete floor. The narrow entrance had no door and there was no roof or any structure extending above the top of the walls. The completely flat floor was sloped slightly with a small drain hole in the lowest corner. This must have been the epitomeD of minimalist architecture.

What that room did very well was act as a resonating chamber and amplify all sounds emitted fairly close to the ground. And then the real purpose of the structure hit me.  I could envision that when a man passes gas in this facility, the roar can be heard for miles around, and other men will pause and listen admiringly and with respect, and one young man will invariably say to another “Now THERE is an asshole”.


I do have a number of weightier matters I’d like to discuss, but my day job has been keeping me pretty busy.  Nonetheless, one should be able to find new material here within the week.