The ACT Sky is Falling

The latest ACT scores for students are out.  Tennessee ranks near the bottom of all states with an average score of 19.5. Knox County students averaged a 20.2 score, down from 20.6 the year before. According to authorities, a score of 21 indicates a student’s readiness for a college education. A closer look might uncover some of the problems with scores and with education in general.

To begin with, what is the rationale for requiring every high school junior in the state to take the ACT? It’s admirable that the costs of the tests are covered by the state, but suspicions abound as to why this test was chosen over others. I suspect that plenty of lobbying and money from ACT, Inc. has swayed those in power and many colleges to choose this tool.
The reported average scores in the state fail to take several factors into account. Although the requirement by decision makers is that every student takes the test, juniors are not required to invest any energies into scoring well. A student can enter the testing center and randomly fill in circles for each section. The outcome in no way affects his graduation from high school.
At some point, politicians and school administrations will discover that NOT EVERYBODY WANTS TO GO TO COLLEGE! Many students are more interested in learning a skill or trade that will offer them a good salary and livelihood. We better hope that infusions of new workers into such areas as construction, plumbing, electricity, heating and cooling continue; otherwise, the cost of houses will soar, as will the payout for service calls. These are admirable careers that do not require a college degree, nor do they necessitate a set score on the ACT. The training is no less rigorous, but it doesn’t require years of classroom work.
What might be a better course of action in schools is a return to better teaching methods. Now, some folks will declare that I’m about to bash teachers. I’m not. Sure, as in any vocation, some people slip into the field and do a horrible job. However, most teachers are interested in working with kids to improve their skills. Perhaps “young’uns“ will become better students when interactions with teachers change.
For a little while, we should call for a moratorium on standardized testing. Let’s allow teacher to TEACH their subjects instead of prepping kids so that they will pass some test that is sacred. More than those exams are part of an education. The interaction between students and teachers as they discuss the meanings of poems and short stories expand personal education. Discovering the underlying causes of environmental problems might lead a student to a career that searches for solutions. Applying mathematical functions to such everyday events as precisely dropping a tree or cutting the correct angle on a board gives education its real value. 
Technology is important in the classroom and plays major roles in our lives. However, it pales in comparison to the one-on-one relationship between teacher and student. Most of us are visual learners, but many of us also need to hear information and instructions. Machines don’t talk too well, and they can’t explain as well as a human who stands in front of whiteboard with marker ready to write or “figure” an explanation. That, my friends, is what separates real education from testing.
I want to see educational improvements in Knoxville, as well as the state of Tennessee and around the nation. I’m tired of the state being in the bottom of the barrel when it comes to education. To fix the problem, we have to test using comparable groups. That means including only students who are college-bound. The ones who are turned toward careers in other areas can be tested via different methods. Those students who are challenged should not be included in the testing outcomes, even though they might participate. Most of all, I want to see money that is poured out to testing companies invested in hiring more teachers who can work with smaller classes in more intense settings. Last, I hope that “educational leaders” will acknowledge that an education is much more than just a standardized test score. Of course, keeping their bureaucratic jobs and allowing profits for test creators probably will block the needed reform to education.

I’m just saying…
My son Dallas came home a couple of weekends ago to face a tough decision. His dog Baxter wasn’t doing so well, and Dallas wanted to take him to Jim Butler, whom he trusts exclusively in situations like this. The news wasn’t good: Baxter was crippled with arthritis, he was stone-deaf, he was nearly blind, he had bladder control problems, and his heart wasn’t in good shape. In the end, my son chose to put Baxter to sleep and, thereby, end his suffering.
Losing a pet is as painful as losing a member of the family. Some folks take offense to the suggestion that an animal is comparable to a human. Perhaps they’ve never had a pet, or perhaps they’ve never had to deal with the loss of one.
The truth is that many people spend more time each day with dogs or cats than they do with wives and children. Before long, each creature learns the habits and idiosyncrasies or the other. They negotiate through them and live in near harmony. The same can't be said for two humans who often allow egos to keep them from co-existing. 

I know no animals who have filed for divorce or emancipation from their owners. Even when a person snaps at a pet or ignores it, the animal comes back with nothing but love. All a pooch wants is a pat on the head or a scratch on the belly.The same thing can't be said for us two-legged creatures. We expect much more of a reward for loving another, and it usually includes a combination of property and power.

So, Dallas said goodbye to his friend and held him as he slipped away. It's a gut-wrenching experience, even more so when it's the first time. We gave o'l Baxter a decent burial and placed some flowers on his grave. Then my son was left to learn how to get along without his buddy.

Amy is much wiser than either Dallas or I am. She knows that one way to soothe the sting of grief is to cook some good country food. She worked in the kitchen, and when supper time came ("dinner" comes only on Sunday and holidays) a casserole dish filled with barbeque meatballs (similar to little meatloaves) and a pot of fresh green beans were waiting. Dallas loaded up, as did I, and her forgot how much he was hurting for a little while. For dessert, my bride prepared a large bowl of "banana-less" banana pudding, and it put a smil on his face.

The same thing occurs when a loved one dies. Friends and church family flood us with all sorts of foods. Most of them are "country cooking" and homemade desserts. It all amounts to comfort food. No, the stuff doesn't bring back the person, nor does it make us forget them. However, those recipes spark memories of the past when all were together in celebration around the table.

Whether we lose a family member, close friend, or pet, the pain is real, and the emptiness feels big enough to swallow ujs. We get by the best we know how, but when others surround us with love and good food, the void is filled just a little, and an assurance that "this too shall pass" settles around us. Dallas lost he best friend; his mother helped him through the tough day with a stove full of love. He survived.

A Bone to Pick

I attended a meeting the other day of citizens with a bone to pick. Somehow they figured I would make an adequate spokesman for their group, and I agreed to present their case. It concerns a situation more and more Knoxvillians are encountering each year.
A developer is seeking a zoning change for a fifty-plus acre parcel of land in Karns. On it 185 units will be built on some lots that are only 45 feet wide. Across the road from this development is another one that will contain 40 units.
The problem comes with the infrastructure in the community. To be exact, routes to the subdivisions are old country roads. In some places the lanes are less than 16 feet. It’s ironic that the streets in the development will be more spacious than the main thoroughfares.
In one spot, the road curves sharply, and goes over an outlet for two or three natural springs on the property. When heavy rains fall, water collects there and overflows onto the road. Passing then is impossible, and now even more run-off water will compete for exit. Even worse, the road is so narrow that emergency vehicles like fire engines cannot pass when a car is on the opposite side. In another example of the problem, just last year, two bus accidents occurred on the road.
This road intersects with another that is a bit wider. However, the problem there is school traffic. During the mornings and again at the end of the school day, drivers dropping off or picking up children clog the road and block the normal flow. Again, no emergency vehicle is able to traverse the road during those times, a fact that endangers the lives and properties of present-day residents, not to mention future homeowners and their houses.
One entrance to the larger development is to be located immediately across the narrow road from the smaller subdivision’s entrance. To the south is a blind hill; to the north one-tenth of a mile is the narrow curve that causes so many problems. Another access road to the large parcel is located just west of the school, and a third will connect to an existing subdivision, another problem area.
One official at an earlier meeting said that roads like these are all over the county. To that individual I say that is no reason to continue allowing construction on parcels until those routes are fixed.
The problem isn’t development and growth for Knoxville. It is essential to a sustained and thriving community. Those who would call for a ban on new projects are simply sticking their heads in the sand and hoping the whole situation will just go away and leave things as they are.
The real problem is the need for updated roads so that developments can become realities…safe ones. That means our government has to get busy with those projects. Only after they’ve been completed should new developments be approved.

The kicker for many folks in the area is that improvements that they desire come with a price tag. Yes, tax rates might need to go up. If they don’t, our roads will continue to be dangerous routes that travel by schools and neighborhoods.
What we need are leaders with the foresight who update Knoxville’s infrastructure and puts on hold new developments until they are done. Otherwise, none of us will be able to navigate the future traffic jams to get anywhere on time.

Let’s hope that the MPC will listen and make decisions that keep neighborhoods safe and promote development.

Doggie Amber Alert

My daughter Lacey and her family had a scare not long ago. It made us all re-evaluate our feelings toward the people and things we love. Well, at least that’s the effect it had on me.
Madden was spending the weekend with his grandparents in Huntsville, Alabama, and Lacey and Nick were looking forward to a party, one for grown-ups at their house. She’d planned a huge spread of food and drink, and Nick had constructed a huge “slip and slide” running down the back of their yard.
Someway, somehow, the family dog Riley managed to escape through the front door, and in the blink of an eye, he was gone. Now, the pooch is a Caron Terrier, not one of God’s brightest creatures. Of course, when any living thing is in-bred so much over the years, it’s a miracle the breed has only four legs and paws, one head and one tail.
Panic set in as Riley’s human parents searched the surrounding yards and homes. They returned defeated and heartbroken when no sign of him was found. Ever-resourceful Lacey printed out “Lost Dog” posters complete with name, description, and contact information. Yep, she issued a doggie amber alert for the missing pet.
As things turned out, a woman driving down the road saw Riley. She stopped, opened the door, and the mutt jumped in, proving just how mentally challenged this dog is. When the rescuer opened her front door, Riley ran inside, jumped on the couch, and climbed to the top of the cushions where he took a nap. He was returned to Lacey, and she welcomed his with open arms, even though she swore to beat him senseless for scaring them all so much.
Dallas’ dog Baxter is an old man. He’s nearly crippled with arthritis and has just a bit of trouble with bladder control. He is a loving dog, but his near-deafness keeps him jumpy when folks approach. Dallas has talked with the vet about whether his amigo is in pain because he would make the difficult decision to have him put to sleep if it relieved any unrelenting hurt that might be worse than passing. Right now, my son is giving wonderful care to his best buddy, whom he rescued from an empty apartment seven years ago.
My dog Snoop, the Jack Russell with an almost psychotic personality, hasn’t been his normal, hateful self of late. Last week, he kept Amy and me up much of the night as he scratched the side of the mattress and begged to get in the bed. I took the old guy to Jim Butler, our vet, and he said the look in Snoop’s eyes indicated something was wrong, but discovering it would take a few steps.
Amy and I will do whatever it takes to make sure Snoop is all right. I’m concerned that part of his problem is old age since he’s either 12 or 13 years old. I all too well understand how each additional year adds to the aches and pains of the body. I also know that if something devastating is the matter that I will make a decision to do what is best for my dog.
Anyone who has a dog doesn’t consider himself an owner. A canine becomes one of the family and soon is considered as important as any human member. The loss of a furry friend hurts as deeply. It’s an odd fact that folks who have so little affection for other persons are so deeply committed to a four-legged creature. We go to extraordinary lengths to protect them and keep them safe from harm.
It’s for sure that few things in life are as devoted as a dog. Even Snoop, who snarls and growls and snaps, will lie down beside Amy or me when he senses something is wrong. Dogs just like to lie around and be petted and patted. Those of us with grown children appreciate that since we sometimes have a longing to love and dote on someone or something since our kids are gone.

Take care of those pets. They are man’s best friends, and their loyalty is second to nothing. As for Riley, Baxter, and Snoop, they’re safe at home and snoozing on the floor at our feet. It’s a reassuring feeling to have them here until their times are up. Then we’ll grieve and learn to get by without them. You can bet it will hurt.