Thursday, October 27, 2011

Political Evil: It's Not What You Think (But Cheney IS Evil)


This morning, I heard a fascinating interview with Alan Wolfe, Boston College professor and author of the new book, Political Evil: What It Is and How to Combat It

Wolfe discusses morality, genocide, American involvement (or lack thereof) in foreign wars, and the niggling question that bothers all progressives: shouldn't there have been a war crimes trial for George W. Bush and Cheney? And, did their extreme actions post-9/11 make things better, or worse?

Wolfe answers these questions and does so bravely--no typical equivocating or apologizing for having strong views. 

If only we could see more honest writing of this sort! In the meantime, I'm reading Wolfe's book and urge others to do the same. 

For more on Political Evil, read:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/books/review/political-evil-by-alan-wolfe-book-review.html?_r=1&ref=alanwolfe

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Psstt...The PSATs Count; Take Them Seriously!

As a teacher and a test prep tutor, let me just admit to one thing that really burns my ass: the PSATs are typically not emphasized by either schools or most teachers of sophomores and juniors.

Instead, innocent students entering their all-important junior year (the primary year of high school that I taught, and my favorite age student) are thrown into the lion's den after being told at the last minute, "The PSAT doesn't really count; don't worry about it!"

Then they totally freak out when they get their (usually rather bad) PSAT scores.

Why are teachers and/or admin failing to mention the PSAT until a week or so before the test, and then brushing it off as no big deal?

Are we as a society too afraid of putting pressure on our kids?

Are we feeling guilty or remiss that there hasn't, realistically, been time to cover PSAT prep in an already jam-packed English curriculum?

A little pressure on our kids can actually be a good thing, and I speak from the wide experience of having many students and tutees whose parents demand absolute perfection..."absolute" is a bit much, I agree, but striving for a top score is not a foolhardy past-time. 

I have personally seen kids who do not even speak English study for two years, master the language, and then ace the Verbal SAT, so I know that anything can be done. Anything. Nothing is impossible; it just takes work.

I have also seen some alarmingly poor PSAT scores in native English speakers and heretofore decent students. 

I have seen entire families shocked to realize that no one ever told them that the PSAT (despite the P standing for  Preliminary) is pretty important. No, it doesn't count for college admission, but it does count quite a bit for courting colleges' interest.

One good thing about the harsh truth of low PSAT scores is that then people are motivated to really prepare for the SAT, and they still have a good year to get serious. 

Here's the bad thing: what isn't often mentioned is the fact that the PSAT--a excellent chance to win a National Merit or other scholarship and score brownie points with colleges, and a great opportunity to truly test how prepared a student is for the SAT--has been wasted. Not only that, but what has also been ignored is the fact that good PSAT scores basically guarantee stellar SAT performance, so by preparing for the PSAT, students would be way ahead of the game.  (We have to start early in order to master the tested skills and the all-important vocab and strategy.)

So, what's the solution? Is it more in-class test prep and more teaching to the test? No. 

As a teacher, I understand that there is not much time in the high school English class day to do PSAT prep in addition to the myriad other important tasks (Novel reading! Essay writing! Notice that both the reading and writing done in English is absolutely essential to the PSAT or any other standardized test) that must be accomplished. 

The only solution is for kids to get hardcore PSAT preparation on the outside; families will have to take the initiative to seek out PSAT courses or tutoring for their kids...and in the meantime, the other way that people can help themselves is by realizing that kids need to read as much as possible in order to ensure verbal exam success. 

I have written before that wide reading is honestly what separates the superior students/thinkers/test-takers from the average ones. Reading starts at basically birth...we have to read to our kids every day (I typically read about an hour to my kids...and I still do! Reading never ends) in order to get them interested in words and books. Kids also need to read because it's an activity that exercises their brains.

So read more. Seek out PSAT prep and don't blame English teachers--except for the fact that they may not have warned you to take the PSAT seriously. I do not pretend to understand why this is, but maybe they are busy; maybe they think your PSAT is just a benchmark...still, there is no excuse not to do the best that you can, so get ready to do your best.  It is really up to YOU, the student.

Remember, the PSAT is a big deal; please study hard!