I've been toying with the idea of using this blog to write about subjects other than food for a while now. I thought about starting another blog, and realized that that probably wouldn't work, since I have quite enough trouble updating one blog on any sort of regular basis.
Some time ago, I had the good fortune to meet Meg Hourihan of Megnut, who in the short but compelling history of blogging is considered one of the "early" bloggers -- and in fact, is one of the folks who started Blogger (now owned by Google, of course). At the time I met her, she had just changed her blog and her blogging life in a way that intrigued me. She had been writing a sort of "everything" blog, and she made a decision to change it to a food blog. "That's funny," I thought. "Here I am, writing a food blog, and I kind of wish I had a little more room to write about other things and not feel obligated to tie them back in to food all the time. I'd like to do the opposite of what Meg's just done."
It wasn't only Meg. You all know what great admiration I have for my blogging chums Bakerina and Bunni. Bakerina writes a blog that has to do with food a fair amount of the time, but also devotes a good bit of space to world issues, knitting and existential angst. And Bunni writes a kind of "stranger than fiction" blog of the tales of her life and her general take on the human condition (the prognosis is not good, folks) -- but every so often she posts something about food, including her recipe for a minestrone that could break hearts and win awards.
And then there's my latest favorite read: If I Ran The Zoo. Another mixed-bag blog; no recipes here that I've seen, although I do claim personal acquaintance with one of the multiple posters (whom I happen to know has been an extremely accomplished cook since childhood, or maybe before). She prefers, however, to share her acerbic take on politics and the politicos who make them, as well as an occasional and necessary quotidian skewering of her close encounters with local nimrods. Another of her colleagues often posts his rather glorious photos of places I'd like to be right about now, so there's generally a fair amount of eye-candy as well as mind-protein there. Group blogs (even those organized around a controlling idea) have, by their nature of course, multiple personalities -- but in a good way.
I know it's not unusual to have a polymorphous sort of blog. Lots of people do. The trick is in having one that people actually want to read -- something where you might on occasion tell about your kid's antics or your lunch date or your latest, greatest recipe, and which also manages to tie those things back into some kind of unsolved mystery or universal truth or quest for fire. So here lies a declaration of intent. I'm not going to stop writing about food, but I'm not always going to write about food. I'm going to take the liberty of sometimes writing about other things, and we'll see how that goes. I know I've done that before on a few occasions, but now I'm making it formal.
At the moment I don't have much time for a comprehensive post, due to midterms. One of the requirements of sabbatical year is that I'm obliged to spend some time sitting "on the other side of the desk." Being a student for a change can actually be quite relaxing compared to teaching -- except during exam time. However, it helps me remember why I'm such an advocate for the abolition of standardized testing (and tests in general as a measure of what has been "learned.") Even though the tests I take in graduate courses are not "standardized", they follow enough of a rote format to make me question their value.
It's not that I'm a "bad test taker" -- just the opposite, actually. Unlike many of my own students, I'm good enough at memorizing information for a test that I can immediately forget once the test is over. But I see it for what it is -- a thoroughly ridiculous exercise. And don't tell me that that's the way the world works, everyone has to take tests, and so that's the way it's got to be, world without end, amen.
The pressure and urgency felt by the education community from the massive onslaught of standardized tests produced by the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind policy has been touted as responsible for "making gains" in education -- which gains are, of course, measured by standardized test scores. Does no-one hear this as a tautology? NCLB has, at best, caused certain communities to score better on standardized tests -- since that's all their schools teach anymore: test sophistication skills, test-taking, test prep, material that will be on the test. Those who actually stand to benefit from this policy? The companies that manufacture standardized tests and test-preparation curricula.
Is there a contradiction in the words "test preparation curricula," or is it just me? Schools are now in the business of implementing curricula that are centered around passing tests. The test is no longer an instrument to gauge whether or not the student has learned the curriculum. The curriculum is an instrument geared to help the student pass the test. What is important is the test itself -- not the learning. Indeed, no-one seems to even bother to ask why we're teaching what we're teaching, and if anyone actually wants or needs to learn it.
And if for some strange reason anyone were to decide that they actually want to measure learning, well, surprise, there are other ways besides tests to do it. I'm not going to give a tutorial here (and no, there won't be a test on this), but just google "performance-based assessment" or "alternative assessment" or something along those lines.
I know this is not what you come here for. Just indulge me for a while. Maybe if I write about this in a place where people are used to reading about food, I'll reach a different audience. Then again, if you came here for a recipe, this is probably just going to piss you off. And you can feel free to tell me that. Comments are open.
But for the moment, I won't try to tie this in to some favorite recipe for cookies to help students feel less anxiety on testing day. I'll soon get back to some regularly-scheduled food-related programming as well, but an occasional meandering into other subject areas is also on the AFIEP agenda.