For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
February 14, 2001 - CSAP!
My eye lighted on the diagram. I saw a ladder leaning against a house, an angle translated into degrees, a distance measured in feet. A lot of unknowns. A space to work my calculations.
And I froze.
I had, in fact, the first math panic attack I'd had since college trigonometry -- the only college class I ever failed. This is not a memory I cherish.
Where was I? Sitting in the administration building of the Douglas County School District. What was I doing? Taking the 10th grade Colorado Student Assessment Program, or CSAP, test.
I think I know why so many parents were invited to come take the test across the state. These days, such tests are called "high stakes." Test results are taken seriously not just for children, but for the institutions that teach them.
I believe we were supposed to conclude that the tests weren't easy. We were supposed to understand that being "proficient" at the CSAP means that you really are very accomplished.
We were also to learn, by direct experience, that performing at a level less than proficient might not necessarily be a disgrace. It might simply indicate two bits of good news.
1. In the year 2001, academic standards are getting tougher.
2. The public now has a new and tool to gauge the effectiveness of one of its most vital institutions -- the public school.
Well, here's my honest appraisal. Both of those are absolutely true. The CSAP is a better test than most. It is capable of giving a far more incisive insight into gaps in student performance.
For the record, I aced the reading and writing part of the test. I really did -- I made not a single mistake. Moreover, I was very aware that it was a better, clearer assessment of skills -- comprehension, grammar, spelling, organization -- than any standardized test I remember taking before. So at the age of 46, I'm pleased to report that these days I might be an A student in 10th grade. Lord knows I wasn't then.
I did pretty badly on the math test -- but only on the trigonometric functions. I got everything else right, after only a little fumbling. Maybe our high school juniors should be held to "proficient" in trig. I pity them.
Well, when I got home I told my wife about my CSAP results. And she told me she'd given our six year old son, Perry, the 4th grade test that morning. The test, or a sample, had come in the morning paper.
Perry did really, really well. Our first grader was "proficient" as a fourth grader. I should point out, I guess, that he's been taught at home these past couple years.
Well, I've thought about this hard, and here's what I think I've concluded.
First, the educational pendulum is swinging away from self-realization and general inquiry. It is swinging back toward structure and specificity. That's fine -- for those who need more structure and specificity. Not all children do, you know.
Second, I am nonetheless a believer in clear standards for achievement. And in general, I applaud the attempt to set those standards higher, and help kids master core content.
Third, my many teacher friends report a trend toward a tremendous narrowing of educational focus. Everything depends on CSAP results in just three areas: reading, writing and 'rithmetic. Those are important subjects. But they are not the ONLY important subjects.
Fourth, I believe we are partners in the education of our young. Parents should read to their children. They should TALK to their children. They should take their children to the library. I have concluded that some parents believe their sole child-rearing responsibility involves the purchase of clothing from Gap.
Teachers should teach well, and strive toward Olympic standards. Finally -- and this seems to be the party too often left out of the equation -- the student has some responsibility, too: to show up, to pay attention, to work hard, to deal with the honest assessment of his or her accomplishments without whining about it. This goes for the parents, too.
The true test of education isn't what happens when the Legislature decides to get tough. It's what happens every day.