In a great Calvin and Hobbes cartoon (they were pretty nearly all great), Calvin asks his dad where the wind comes from. His dad replies, "It comes from the trees sneezing."
Calvin replies, "Really?"
His dad responds, "No, but the truth is more complicated."
Flash forward to Calvin and Hobbes walking through a windy landscape, where Calvin says, "The trees are sure sneezing today."
I'm sure everyone in Florida has heard about last month's flap about the FCAT Writing Scores. Here's the typical take on it: Most kids used to pass the FCAT Writing, but they decided to score it harder, so most kids wound up failing, so they lowered the passing score from a 4 back down to a 3, which represents a lowering of standards, and those lazy teachers should be ashamed of themselves for wanting lower standards.
Okay, that's the "tree-sneezes" explanation. The truth is more complicated, so people prefer to hear that the trees are sneezing. In an effort to set the record straight, with a bit of humor to make the medicine go down, I did a series of Mr. Fitz comic strips in the Daytona Beach News-Journal to illustrate several points about the scores and the flap. When I do a series like this, it is really an essay done as sequential art: each idea, instead of getting a paragraph, gets a comic strip.
In an effort to further clarify my thoughts, I'm going to annotate the series here to maybe clarify a few things for people. I suppose it's a bit like a director's commentary on a film. It's an experiment with the format; I'm looking to see if it works.
The series opened with this strip:
When I told a retired educator who wanted to hear about the whole mess about the rubrics remaining the same but being used differently, he asked, "How does that work?" He was baffled.
And of course there's the fact, noted in the last frame, that no additional time was given to meet the new demands. Students still had only 45 minutes to read a prompt, plan how to respond to it, write it using good word choices, vivid details, fluent sentences, a sense of personal voice, sound reasoning, an attention getting grabber, and a thought provoking conclusion. And now, without the aid of a thesaurus, spell check or dictionary, and with no additional time allowed, they were required to make sure that their essays had "higher quality" details and were proofread well. It all seems so arbitrary. I mean, how high is it acceptable to raise the bar? Will there be lamentations over the failures of teachers when students fail to type 3 pages in a single sitting, a requirement in the new Common Core State Standards?
Post Script: A friend messaged me because she'd caught a couple of errors in this post. I corrected them, but noted how hard it is to eradicate every mistake when you are editing your own work because your brain corrects things for you. That's why editors exist. Another good point to remember when thinking about writing and proofreading a complete essay in 45 minutes...