ONE: It's horrible, terrible, no good, very bad stuff. But, it has
to go somewhere, as we all know.
Welcome to Sierra Blanca, Texas,
home of New York City's treated sewage site (since 1992) and the
largest sewage dump in the nation and, coming soon, the low-level
(euphemistically) nuclear waste from the great states of Maine,
Vermont, and beyond. The town is small (population 600), really
big, poor and mostly Hispanic. Sounds like a formula, no? Per capita
income is around $8,000. One ranch just outside of town has been
receiving 400 tons of New York "sludge," everyday.
Defintion: sludge (sluj) n. 1. Semisolid material
such as the type precipitated by sewage treatment. Here's
a quote from James Schilling, owner of the Sierra Motel: "The
sludge plant and coming soon, the low-level nuclear site? I'm all
for them, and most of therest of the town is, too. We need progress
in the town, and these facilities will bring money and jobs here."
Along with sludge and radiation, of course.
Senator Wellstone of Minnesota is one of the sole objectors to the
new plan. He says it's a fight for municipalities without political
clout like Sierra Blanca, Texas. It's his feeling that they have
become targets of opportunitiy for large interests that have encountered
finding homes in larger more powerful polities. Plus, smaller towns
are far less sophisticated and therefore, less protected by watchdogs.
For example, in Sierra Blanca, a thorough geological study of the
site has not been done. In New York City or almost any city this
just could not and would not happen. Oops. But, Governor George
Bush and his administration are not bound to follow any court
rulings on this situation anyway. The common wisdom of the Texas
capital is that despite low yield, disingenuous political whinnings
from George, Jr. the deal will go right through, muy pronto.
David Frederick, a lawyer
for the Sierra Defense Fund, stated, "Look, you and I both
know that these people are low income, minority populations. They
do not have a strong spokesperson in state government. It's obvious
that this area was selected because it did not have the financial
or political strength to resist." It is apparent that Mexico's
politicians are more interested in this small Texas community, than
the Texans and their leadership. Governors of Mexico states of Coahuila
and Chihauhau have officially called what is going on, "economic
racism." And legislators from those states have held hunger
strikes in protest on the bridges over the El Paso River. Proponents
point to the new football field and the new fire truck as evidence
that the town is moving in the right and more progressive direction.
Sierra Blanca was once a ranching and railroad center, but now,
with three gas stations for passing motorists, two RV parks, two
motels, a general store, and an old post office, it is a shadow,
a parody, of its former self. Sierra Blanca was the exact spot where
the Southern Pacific and Texas Pacific Railroad's met in 1881. An
event commemorated in all history textbooks with the driving of
the "golden spike." Now, another "golden spike is
being driven into the heart of this innocent community, one that
stinks to high heaven and glows in the dark., Sierra Blanca (White
Mountains) is a clear and present proof of bad stuff flowing downhill.
But at least it's no longer flowing downhill in the dark.
PART TWO: Drudging along
towards college on the S.A.T. not-so-super highway.
has been noted, in innumerable conversations and articles about
education, that almost everyone likes to criticize the
public schools. This is especially true if the speaker or writer
didn't do well, his or her children are not doing well,
and it is doubly and triply true if the speaker is divorced, an
alcoholic-substance abuser, or so totally
overworked and busy that there is no time for the kids, and his
or her conscious over deficit-parenting is really bothering him
or her, but there's no fessing up.
Anyway, lets talk about standardized
testing and those dreaded and, some say, dreaful SATs for moment.
More college-bound students had A-averages this year
than any other year in the past. But, the increase of scores on
the SATs was lower (not by much, just a few
points or so, but still, lower.) than any other year. This has generated
a whole new industry of analysists who are publishing
data in all directions concerning the implications of this "alarming
new trend." The SAT Board stated
that test takers with A-averages grew from 28 percent to 38 percent
over the last 10 years. But on the
Math portion average scores fell 3 points and on the verbal they
fell 12 points. The trend may reflect
positive changes in education (which no one believes, predictably),
or it may reflect easier grading on
the part of attacked, beleaguered, criticized, underpaid, overworked,
and over stressed teachers. Actually,
nationwide average SAT scores are the highest they have been in
27 years (512 math, 505 verbal), but
there is a wide, too-wide 30-point gap between rural and suburban
areas. By the way, 1.2 million students
took the SATs
before they graduated last June, and this is also a
big increase. Plus the number of students in Advanced Placement
(AP) courses (basically college courses
given at the high school level for top students who qualify) vastly
increased at all schools as well.
So, hopefully, you see that before
you blast off on "students today" being dumber than you
were you should take a deep, informational
complexity breath. Remember that one of the biggest factors in the
current downward trend (of the upward
trend) of the SATs is the disparity between urban and suburban areas.
Suburban students are way, way ahead of their variegated urban brothers
and sisters. 40 to 50 percent of African-American
and Latino students live in large cities. Also, students with parents
who have less education are falling
even further behind than urban students. All of this is coming at
a time when every school district is
increasing it standards for graduation, extending hours per day
and days per year, and increasingly
emphasizing evermore stringent evaluation of students and teachers.
And then, there is the old, and valid, argument about the SATs themselves
as unreliable predictors of college
success especially when compared to simple high school performance.
Put another way, grades are a better
predictor, by far, than the SATs, as admitted by everyone involved
including even the proponents of SATs
and the SAT Board itself.
Just suppose that grade inflation is
part of this mix. What would be the reason? Why would teachers
be inclined to grade higher? In a pure classroom setting, the teacher
would let the cards fall where they
may. A student with a C-average, or a student with an A-average
does not necessarily create more work
or less work one way or the other for the teacher. A highly motivated,
successful student can be a lot more
work than an average student. It depends. But from within the classroom,
I can see no dynamic that would impel
teachers to inflate their grades. Can you see any other factor that
might cause this phenomenon? Parent pressure? ("My child is
NOT a C-student! No way!!!") Could
that be it, at all? Teacher evaluations based on parent complaints?
Community demands for "higher
standards?" Elitist insistence on Ivy League schools when today
college selections are far, far more
complicated than simply name colleges? But, in any case, from the
parents to the school committee; from
children who come to school from broken families and substance abuse;
from political leaders who are uninformed
and fan the flames of ignorance to elitists who vicariously live
through their children, teachers are
under more pressure than ever. It's not the demands of teaching,
it's the demands of distracted parents
who want the schools to do it all for them, and then take the blame
as well. So, when you're ready to square
off on "kids today" and SAT scores, ask yourself, "How
would I like to be in high school today?"
Graduation requirements are way, way up, grade expectations are
way, way up, competition for college
admission is tougher by far than ever before (including formerly
"safe: state institutions), the
courses are grueling, the homework takes until midnight and all
weekend, and everywhere there are clamorings
for more school (less parenting) hours, more school days, tougher
teaching, tougher courses, more requirements
and never-ending criticism of everything about the public
schools. Oh, yeah, you'd love it. In
fact some of these factors directly impact grade inflation: for
example, the exponential increase in advanced
placement courses obviously will result in some of it because students
received a weighted grade: if you get
a B in AP, it's a A on the high school transcript. If you get an
A is higher than the regular A. This
also true of honors-weighted courses, which are even more prevalent.
And, while all of these statistics
become polemical, everyone agrees that the increased number of students
taking the test is good for the nation. Calculators are now allowed
in the Math portion (and in classroom
testing as well) which has meant higher scores due to fewer sloppy,
careless mistakes. And even with the
urban/suburban disparities, one third of all students taking the
SATs, and AP courses, are now from
minorities and their numbers in Masters and PhD programs are vastly
increased from just a decade ago. SATs
are now taken by 43 percent of all high school graduates.
One last statistic from all of these SAT-taker
evaluations: the top three career preferences are: 1. Health
and allied services (18 percent) 2.
Business and commerce (14 percent) 3.
Social sciences and history (11 percent).
So, there you go. Now you are
armed and ready for the battle at the coffee counter. Except for
one last thing: answer these five questions
from last year's Scholastic Aptitude Test. If you get even one right,
you can have an extra donut (if you
have the money):
the history of the Papacy from its origins to the present day.
Concentrate specially but not exclusively
on the social, political, economic, religious, philosophical,
and sociobiological impact on Europe,
Asia, America, and Africa. Be brief, concise and specific.
an epic poem based on the events of your life in which you see
and footnote allusions from TS Eliot,
Keats, Chaucer, Norse mythology, and the Marx brothers. Critique
your poem with a full discussion
of its metrics.
not until you finish your answers.