NB: Accidentally scheduled this for tomorrow, so enjoy it this afternoon when I noticed!
I’m hot off a week of vacation (didja miss me?) and just before, we had our annual battery of English-focused standardized tests. Math in May, science not till 8th grade. For us, it’s MCAS, which I hear stands for the Massachusetts Child Abuse System. Seems about right. Like the kids, I’m not a fan. I admire the desire to see how all kids do at the same state-wide task, but are long reading comprehension passages and three essays in two high-stakes days the best way to do that? I rarely let on at school, but I hate it with the best of them.
I usually give test prep a day or two, this year a bit more due to scheduling quirks. Some schools take it crazy serious because the “low test score” cross-hairs are a scary place to be. Schools can actually get shut down for low test scores, which is insanity. I hope those cases were more the last straw, an easily identified culprit amid other evidence the school was “failing.” But that’s always such a dubious distinction, and I often suspect more nefarious motives. I pay attention to scores but don’t panic. My scores are in keeping with my lifelong B+ level of performance, and nobody panics over an 87. Or at least I don’t.
And the test doesn’t take all day, but the testing does. We don’t have the heart to make kids do work after the test, and we’d likely face a mutiny if we even tried. But we still don’t quite want to go full Pixar, so we compromise with nature documentaries. Then at the end of the day, reality television of failed cake baking. Good stuff for Day 1, but the natives got restless on Day 2. My room descended into chit-chat, dry eras decoration, and Nerf ball chaos. Kids blew off steam.
Or was that steam just the stink bomb of the standardized test? MCAS, the juiciest fart of the year. Hey, maybe that would have made a better title for this substack!
The Urban Blah
Back in 2009-11 I collaborated with the brilliant Vee to make a webcomic that failed to become syndicated across the globe. I am pro-recycling.
I met my nerdy college roommate for dinner recently, our first time since the pandemic, and I found myself living this comic. I told him I wasn’t judging as I described it, and I apologized. I received plenty of pushback when this first ran, too, and there are always reasons, many legit. And yet, I stand by my ad hominem attack.
Also, Vee has a substack, you should subscribe!
Jam of the Week
Limited listening on vacation, and choosing this weekly Jam has meant I’m up to date on music that’s floated my boat this year. So an evergreen pick: We Were Promised Jetpacks’s debut release, These Four Walls. Subsequent albums have shown “growth” (that’s pronounced “enh”) but that 2009 album is a barn-burner. Sometimes I’ll put it on, sing along in heavily accented cartoon Scottish at the top of my lungs. “Moving Clocks Run Slow” was always my jam, and I’m sucker for Late Album Return to Side A Motif, which elevates “Keeping Warm.” A longtime top fave.
My Back Pages
Back in graduate school, we had to perform an educational PSA, I can’t remember why. I desperately seized on any opportunity for humor. From December, 2010:
MARK is about to bite into a sandwich when LINDA ENTERS.
LINDA: What are you doing?!
MARK: I was trying to eat this tunafish sandwich, but there seems to be something stuck in my ear. Oh, it’s your complaining.
As you can see, I fit in perfectly in a graduate school for education.
LINDA: You’re eating tunafish from a can?!
MARK: Doy. Where do you think tunafish comes from?
LINDA: The ocean, Mark. Tuna isn’t born in cans. It’s an animal that lives in the water and gets caught by fishermen. But the huge nets they use end up catching a lot more than mature skipjack tuna — they also catch billfish, sharks, juvenile bigeye and yellowfin tunas, and even turtles.
MARK: Golly, Linda, I had no idea.
I think I was going for like a Lassie/Opie thing here, after jamming in all the necessary content, which I suspect may have been co-written by the other members of my group. I learned in Key West this week those fishing nets can also catch sharks. Eep!
LINDA: You may think a can of tuna only costs a dollar, but ultimately it’s costing us the lives of thousands of innocent sea creatures.
MARK: (to sandwich) You monster! (to Linda) What can I do to help? Does this mean I can’t ever eat tuna again?
Yelling at the sandwich smacks of a “covered” Futurama joke. And NB: fish somehow was a recurring them in my teacher training. Hasn’t come up much since.
LINDA: No, but if you do want to be less evil, you could look for what’s called pole-caught tuna.
MARK: “Pole-caught tuna,” you say?
LINDA: Why yes, Mark, pole-caught tuna. It means that fishermen caught the fish using an actual fishing pole and not a huge net.
MARK: That sounds a whole lot better for the fish.
LINDA: And for your soul. Of course it won’t help with your fishy breath...
MARK: Maybe I need some pole-caught Tic Tacs.
Everyone laughs as DAN enters doing his best Troy McClure impression.
Of course I cast myself as the closing narrator. You might remember me from such school projects as “Water Clocks” or “Danahue: Panel on Early Humans” (both eighth grade projects; as Danahue I pranced around like an afternoon talk show host, yelling Caller, are you there?” and just FIGHTING off the suitors).
DAN: Well, we’ve had a lot of fun here today, but net-caught tuna is no laughing matter. So the next time you reach for that can of tuna, make sure it says the fish have been pole-caught. Because once we deplete our oceans of wildlife, they’re never coming back. Don’t be a Mark. Think about what you’re eating before it’s too late.
I student taught with Linda, but I’m blanking on Mark. I feel bad dissing him, but he was in on the joke at the time. Honest!
WAY different. But if you were to cut a soft taco in half…
I cut my tuna sandwiches in half before I eat them.