06 July, 2011

An A+ In AP (Body) Art

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An A+ In AP (Body) Art


I am starting to think that the books I’ve written are lousy. I’ve been getting rejection letters from agents faster than I can send them out. I’m starting to think they are sending them before I even query them. It’s a conspiracy. They all sit around laughing and eating jumbo shrimps and drawing on thick and dark wrapped cigars while slapping each other on the back and saying things like, “We sure got that Basile, didn’t we? A-HAHAHA!” Or maybe my query letters are not good. It’s one of the two, I think.

Let’s talk about something fun today. What’s that? I am a miserable bastard incapable of having fun? Well, that’s true, but I’ll write in character and you tell me if it sounds like I’m having fun. (“We sure got those readers, didn’t we? A-HAHAHA!”) Anyway, let’s do the fun thing.

So, I’ve never been to San Francisco. I really don’t have a desire to go there either. I like the east coast. It’s sweltering during the summer, frightfully cold during the winter, and frosted with the delectable cream cheese frosting I like to call ‘what the hell is your problem; get out of me face.’ Or maybe that’s just Jersey. At any rate, I like where I live. Some great writers and artists were born in San Francisco. Ansel Adams, Robert Frost, Jack London, and also the cult lunatic Jim Jones, the murderer the Zodiac Killer, and that freedom hating cunt Richard Gage. I guess they all can’t be winners. It’s also the place where the first woman put her cell phone and lighter in her bra at a bar. I hate that. I made that part up. Not the hate. The hate is true.

San Fran. A teacher there by the name of Stanley Richards made a bet with his students. Stanley (or Mr. Richards, as his kids hopefully call him) teaches at the San Francisco City Arts and Technology High School. I don’t know what he teaches because the article I read didn’t say and I’m too lazy to find out. But Mr. Richards used an interesting tactic to motivate his students, and we’re going to talk about it.

Standardized tests. How much do we all hate them. I know I do. I was never a good tester when I was young; I was never much of a student either. But there was always that time of year where we (meaning people of my age since I don’t know how it’s done now) took the Iowa tests. You remember those. Tiny little circles, number two pencils, wooden and poorly read aloud instructions about filling in the circles completely. I think Iowa should be expelled from the Union for making us take those tests. These tests determined what class you were going to be in for next year, and also how much money the district was to get in the next budget. That’s a lot of pressure for a classroom full of brats who were just trying to figure out who was going to share his tennis ball for a game of Suicide during recess. Mr. Richards used this opportunity to will his kids into success.

The bet was this: If Mr. Richards’ kids could help to raise the California Academic Performance Index by fifty points, he would get a tattoo of the vice principal of the school. The school was projected to improve by seven points. For those scoring at home, seven is about fourteen percent of fifty. Needless to say, Mr. Richards’ class did indeed help the school to raise its score by fifty points, and now Mr. Richards has a tattoo of the vice principal as a samurai slaying a dragon, which represents the standardized tests, on his calf.

If I were a Debbie Downer or Negative Nanci, or Asshole Andy (what a minute…) then I’d say the tattoo looks pretty beat. It could have been done much better, I think. But I won’t say that. Even though I did. Just now. Here’s to you, Mr. Richards, for motivating your class to do something incredible. I think this is an awesome little story tucked away in the cesspools of modification stories centered around things like, ‘Schmeh, I can’t find a job,’ and ‘Idiot prick tattoos his own two year old.’ I’m not sure you can use the word prick in a headline, but whatever. This is one of those motivating stories that invites someone into our beautiful community under an auspice of positivity and success. Will he look on the mod when he’s seventy and say, ‘What the hell was I thinking?’ I don’t think so. Any person who is willing to permanently modify as a divining rod to inspire success and potential is someone who clearly cares about his class. He’ll likely look on the mod and say, ‘We did this great thing together, and I’m glad I remember it.’

I live in Jerz; you kids should know that by know. Here in Jersey, we are going though a big ol’ political shitstorm of teachers’ salaries and where the money is coming from and pay freezes and strikes and unions getting in the way and all of that nonsense that directly affects the students, but completely handcuffs them in their ability to affect the outcome themselves. I’ll save you my political opinion about the whole thing because likely you won’t agree with me and it’ll make me seem like a heartless bastard. (As a side note, the Constitution says nothing about providing education to the county’s people.) The business of teaching is often the center of the stories about education. Class sizes, programs cut, teacher strikes, union leaders’ (outrageous) salaries, keeping up with Japan and China, low scores, violence in the school. All kinds of negative shit that pollutes the waters making difficult the ability to see the kids that are doing great things. And through the motivation of this teacher, Mr. Richards, willing to modify himself for the performance of his kids, the kids responded seven times the expectation. Well done, Mr. Richards, and a golf clap for seeing the whole thing through, for not reneging on the deal and giving the kids the satisfaction and the example of honorable behavior.

I’m not saying that every teacher needs to make deals like this with their kids. But thinking outside of the box never hurts, especially when it is in the best interest of the class involved. This wouldn’t have been a thing that motivated me as a child, admittedly. I was a crime and punishment kind of student. I liked strict teachers with rules and order and repercussions. That motivated me. It was my desire to not fail Mr. Miskar, to not let him down (even though my senior research paper was atrocious and about five pages short). I imagine that Mr. Richards’ kids will always remember Mr. Richards for this, and that is a beautiful thing. That’s a thing that shapes their perspective, gives example to them of someone who wants them succeed, and how important hard work can be. It’s more than a samurai vice principal slaying a standardized test dragon, though that is triumphantly awesome. It is a memory (through the help of our beautiful art form and culture) that these kids will have forever. And that’s a beautiful thing. Hey, if any of you cats and kittens are friends with your old teachers on Facebook or have some way of contacting them, tell them about something you remember. Tell them about something they did to shape your life, something positive you remember, and thank them for it. They may not hear that type of thing very often. I’m going to message Mr. Miskar right now and thank him for teaching me the language and how to write properly. I won’t mention to him all of the Goddamned spelling tests of his I failed. Spelling tests in cursive only. How the hell do you make a lowercase cursive G? God, I’m stupid. Stay beautiful, kids.



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