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Monday, August 11, 2003

SHEARING SHEEPSKINS 

Surprise!!! The recall extravaganza is not the only story in California that features loons, kooks, and a few people who should know better.

Mark Twain once opined that God had manufactured idiots for practice and when satisfied with years of dry runs, he then created School Boards. Apparently God has waited until 2003 to unveil his masterpiece - the University of California Board of Regents and its President, Richard Atkinson,

Two weeks ago, the Los Angeles Times reported that the UC Regents had endorsed a new SAT college admissions test which is devoid of analogies as test questions. The SAT will no longer assess reasoning skills through the use of correlations such as:

UNIVERSITY REGENTS: CORPORATE BOARD OF DIRECTORS

A) Borgias: Medicis

B) reduced standards: more students

C) additional students: more tuition dollars

D) increased revenue : revenue shortfall

E) stemming revenue shortfall: I keep my job


According to the article, Atkinson strong-armed the College Board, the parent company which owns the SAT, by threatening to exclude it as an entrance requirement for the gigantic (read big, big SAT customer)UC system.

UC SYSTEM: SAT REVENUE

A) Pentagon: Lockheed-Martin

B) gun: head

C) thumbscrews: thumbs

D) horse head: pillow

E) stemming revenue shortfall: I keep my job

Atkinson insisted the analogies be replaced with more math, reading comprehension (analogy free, I assume) and a writing exercise (points deducted for using analogies). Dismissing with the analogies means that precision in communication is once more institutionally mandated to the back of the bus. Hey pal, it’s OK if you can’t give clear-cut directions on how to transfer that spent nuclear fuel rod to a secure container. Your higher math scores should make up for any verbal insufficiency.

The LA Times article quotes the breathtakingly articulate Atkinson, "I always just hated the verbal analogies. There was just a trickiness to them." Something tells me that Richard didn’t exactly put up big numbers on his verbal scores. One wonders how long he’s been waiting to exact this revenge.

Knowing the complete lack of verbal skullduggery involved in academia, business, politics, dating, television news and buying a car, Atkinson is probably right on this count.

The research director for the College Board does her job by toeing the UC line like a good soldier, rationalizing the UC ultimatum by declaring that analogies have nothing to do with what is learned in school. She then performs some first rate foot shooting by qualifying that analogies are good for assessing reasoning skills and a students potential.

Thus, we are informed that high schools aren’t doing their job and that UC isn’t interested in a student’s reasoning skills or their prospects as students. Let’s hope the College Board will consider a section that tests equivocation.

Of course, the reality challenged multicultural crowd chimes in with the typical “tests are culturally biased, eliminate them and give everybody an A so we feel good about ourselves”. They fear a student might be faced with a question that poses terms outside of their immediate sphere of influence, panic and, hell I don’t know, spontaneously explode?

Robert Schaefer of the utopian monikered National Center for Fair and Open Testing appears apoplectic at the cultural bias inherent in the words oarsman and regatta. He’s right, there are no regatta centers in central LA, New Mexico or Appalachia, or I assume he’s performed some solid research and not just foaming at the mouth in an emotional fit of righteous indignation.

Since regatta centers don’t exist in those places, I guess that implies the students couldn’t have read about one in a book, magazine or newspaper; or seen an example on TV or in a movie. Even money says they don’t have astronauts and rocket launches in Appalachia, LA or New Mexico, but there is an outside chance students might have found a way to learn about them in school or at home.

Ultimately there are no reasons given as to how this change in assessment is going to provide a better performing, higher caliber of student for the UC system or induce the high schools to prepare their students more thoroughly; it’s a defeatist rationale designed to accommodate circumstance rather than inspire performance. With standards for the SAT lowered once more, the California high schools providing the bulk of UC applicants can breathe easy knowing another measure of academic performance can be scrapped in favor of extra courses in Self Esteem Management or Trickiness Studies.

President Atkinson and the UC Regents performed some interesting contortions to justify this nonsense, appease the multiculturalists, and hold out hope for more applicants. In the near future we may have them to thank when explaining to a UC graduate that we were only drawing an analogy and didn’t really want him to stick his head in the sand.










TABLES TURNED AT THE HOTEL CALIFORNIA 

Here in the land where nothing is as nature intended, the Golden State has been keeping faithful to its mandate as the country’s chief source of the ridiculous, tempered with an occasional sublime. Rather than the usual lifestyle fads and celebrity train wrecks the nation has come to depend on for shopping tips and distraction from the quotidian, this time the Left Coast is delivering political circus aplenty, but little in the way of bread.

The recall vote now scheduled for October 7, has elicited opinion pieces ranging from apocalyptic to narcoleptic. Let me say thanks for the insight on how this escapade is all about money and power, special interests and partisanship. Otherwise, we wheat grass chugging, botox injecting, yoga junkies might just have been fooled into believing it was about representative government. Californians once again owe a debt to observers in those temples of objectivity like New York, Boston and Washington for saving our tofu bacon. And as for the plethora of side show candidates, what do expect in a state where a ‘publicist’ is required to get a driver’s license?

However, the thinking here among many of those not connected to either party’s pork dispensers, is that there are good reasons this recall effort has made it to a general election. Classroom sizes are growing by 33%, overall services are being cut, lives being dismantled and the health and well being of 33 million people is at stake. Clean air, water and employment are in short supply and at last count, there are 38 billion reasons that will prevent the situation from improving.

Events of this magnitude don’t happen because a multimillionaire congressman decides one morning to change destiny all by his lonesome. They get started that way, but a high level of distrust has to exist in order to collect over a million signatures to force a recall, even in California. Ultimately, the momentum behind this recall is the result of watching politicians devote their best, and often craftiest, work to campaigning while failing miserably in their elected duties.

Throughout his tenure, the Governor of this state has proven to be a sensational fund raiser and a dismal leader and administrator. Of course, the Republicans deserve their share of the credit for this mess, but Gray Davis’ tenure has demonstrated a singular effectiveness; keeping Gray Davis’s campaign coffers in good stead.

Californians remember Davis for signing a pay raise to the state’s prison guards and two months later, accepting a $250,000 check from their union. Over a five year period, Davis accepted $120,000 in contributions from Enron, the company most responsible for the blackouts and budget deficits in the 2001 energy debacle. Claiming his last check came in 2000, before Enron cooked the California energy market, he refused to return the cash. Recent newspaper reports have raised speculation he knew of the state’s impending fiscal doom and withheld information prior to the general election.

Davis was essentially unchallenged in last year’s primary, focusing his campaign on attacking his most formidable Republican opponent, Richard Riordan, in an effort to keep Riordan from winning the Republican nomination. His negative campaign worked, and mindless California Republicans delivered Bill Simon as their candidate. The general voting population (voters without ties to the parties and thus not anticipating largesse for loyalty) went to the polls last November holding their noses at their choices and at a process that coughed up two lame candidates. The turnout was the 47th worst in the nation.

Given Davis’ record, the extraordinary lengths Davis went to retain his office, and the state’s present predicaments, many California citizens are thrilled at the opportunity to return the favor to a self serving politician who manipulates the system to his advantage and leaves the citizenry feeling impotent. Voter frustration has now turned to voter schadenfreude. Hey, what’s $60 million for a recall election when you finally get to watch the piper dance to your tune?

Rather than leading the nation down the road to democratic perdition as some have opined, perhaps Californians are doing their trend setting best to do what any number of voters throughout the country would love to do; remind elected officials they are public servants, not the public’s masters.




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