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Thumb TAKS

Thumb TAKS

Journalism junkie: As HISD administrators begin preparing their excuses in advance of impeding calamity, I can only watch wryly as they struggle to solve a problem while ignoring the means to do so ["Wake-Up Call," by Margaret Downing, November 28].

Last spring, teachers at my school were given a sample TAKS test. The majority of us immediately voiced skepticism that most of our students could pass it because it involves teaching reading skills, not the shortcuts and gimmicks we learned in past years to remediate TAAS failures.

The really ironic part of this is that I believe the key to improving TAKS scores calls for less, not more, direct teaching, a concept that flies in the face of overtrained pedagogues. Students should be allowed more free reading time and be tested on their abilities to interpret required readings. We have allowed media to stimulate; perhaps we need good, old-fashioned books to calm them and impart thoughts deeper than can be discussed.

I teach journalism, a class that's rare in HISD because of fear and ignorance. Having been in four HISD schools, I learned that the common element is that all administrators wanted a tight rein on the flow of information out of schools; therefore, the very idea of a school newspaper as a free forum for student opinion strikes fear into the hearts of most of them.

Indeed, HISD's former PR expert Terry Abbott endeavored to control the entire flow of information to the local media, rendering Houston Chronicle school coverage laughably inconsequential.

From what I've seen, the TAKS objectives are directly addressed in a good journalism class that engages students to think and read newspapers daily. Having taught history and English, I can say that no other class more directly addresses the reading issue focusing on high-interest, salient issues. Properly taught, such a class is lively, controversial and will be perceived as a dangerous hotbed of radical thought by the petty tyrants now in charge of Texas schools. Any wonder we test so low while more freewheeling, Upper Midwest states (such as Iowa) score much higher?

Donald Johnson
Houston

Low on Lee: Thank you for this great article on the new TAKS. I was especially interested in the comments made by the Lee High School principal.

This principal forced all of the seasoned teachers to leave Lee High. Many of the remaining students were taught by those seasoned teachers. However, this school will look like an educational disaster zone when those students leave the school.

How does this principal justify asking his seasoned teachers to retire? What did he gain by running off the veteran teachers?

Elaine Bluitt
Houston

Fantasyland: You had me laughing so hard I almost puked my Wheaties! HISD has been living in fantasyland for so long that even the administrators believe the BS they repeat each year:

• The quote that "we have created TAAS robots." Good God, for years they've been teaching TAAS to their students, who still can't pass the test. They have been creating TAAS "robots" that couldn't spell cat even if you spotted them the C and the A.

• Bilingual education is a waste of taxpayers' money and is a disservice to the children in HISD. Just look at the rise in test scores after California dropped its bilingual program.

• Oh, my goodness! We require new students to learn about the history of our nation? Shame on us. Wow, that is just so racist!

• Amstutz sees no link between rising TAAS scores and the flat Texas scores on college entrance SAT tests. Well, duh! All they've been teaching for years is the TAAS test and not the subject matter. Teach the subject matter and SAT scores will improve!

Ultimately, the responsibility for learning a subject belongs with the student (and parents) and no one else. HISD should pass the sliver of wisdom to their esteemed students.

David K. Wilson
Houston

Wonderful Rubbish

Talented band: Your article on Pure Rubbish was fantastic ["Glamorous Youth," by John Nova Lomax, November 28]. I interviewed these kids back when I was the assistant music producer at Microsoft Sidewalk.

I also took Hobart Roland to the show you wrote about when I worked at the Press! They are really some talented young men, and I hope the best for them. Very weird to see them on MTV.

I think you're doing one hell of a job. Keep it up.

Julie Bifano
Houston

Second-half score: I think you should write about the other half of Pure Rubbish, J.T. and Mike. In most articles written about them, people include only Evan and Derek, so people are just going to know them as two brothers in a band with the unknown. J.T. and Mike have a wicked talent that should be recognized also.  

Ashley Nash
Deer Park

Dems Don't Get It

Minorities and the election: I was appalled by the comments of Chris Bell (and other Democrats) in Tim Fleck's Insider column ["Bush Envy," November 14]. How typical of the Democratic Party to blame people of color for its failures.

Party leaders are flailing about, pointing fingers in a pathetic attempt to explain their spectacularly poor showing in the election. Republicans won races not because the "black and brown" people just couldn't get their act together but because Democrats didn't commit themselves to the hard work it takes to organize them.

Instead of agonizing over every corporate nickel Republicans outspent them by, Democrats should have been focused on the working people who used to be their base. If you want those votes, you have to work for them -- at the grassroots level, like the Green Party is trying to do.

Why should people of color mobilize and rally around candidates who don't represent them? Perhaps a better question is why does Fleck think anyone gives a damn what slimy political consultants think. He should take a week off and try developing some real contacts.

Erika McDonald
Houston

Peeved at Parsons

In dispute: Once again, I find myself having to clarify the facts and dispel the rumors and lies concerning Kid-Care. Dan Parsons wrote to the Houston Press [Letters, November 7] that Kid-Care's auditor stated they would not be providing any more financial information to the BBB. That call actually came from our ex-business manager.

And Parsons incorrectly said that I said on KPFT and in the Houston Press that the BBB is unfair. What I said was that it was filled with corruption, an overzealous CEO and president and an unholy relationship with a TV reporter also known as a "domestic terrorist."

It is obvious that the role he plays at the BBB is that of "supreme commander." Based on Parsons's September 18 letter to me, he was explicit in telling me that Kid-Care's membership was going to be terminated without any discussion. However, the BBB bylaws clearly state that the executive committee and board of directors are the only ones responsible for acting on termination requests.

Could it be that Mr. Parsons has a rubber-stamp executive committee and board of directors? It seems like he already made the decision for the board without any input from the directors.

The Houston Press put it in complete perspective in its article on Parsons ["Confidence Man," by Brad Tyer, May 10, 2001], which said a public figure who speaks his honest mind will find himself as a wise man or a fool. I contend he now finds himself in the latter position.

Brad Levy
Houston

A Navel Fleet

Belly up: I am one of the belly dancers at Agora, and I have been meaning to write and thank you for your review [Best of Houston issue, September 26]!

We perform all over Houston and invite you to any of our shows. We are at Helios every other Thursday (I was actually one of the original gothic belly dancers and I was sad to see that venue go). We are at Kolbeh and Russian Bear on the weekends, and occasionally The Sands and Cafe Europe.

The name of our troupe is Bella Donna, and we're working to get our Web site up. We appreciate your support. Being voted best belly dancers by the Houston Press is the best endorsement we can get, and we thank you!

Victoria Markey
Houston

Blowing Glass

Wages and workers: A bit bitter, aren't you, and sloppy with gossip presented as facts ["Shattering the Glass," by Kelly Klaasmeyer, November 21]? Since most of the team of workers that Dale Chihuly uses are glass artists in their own right, with different styles, none of them is paid $10 an hour.

And no matter how many people are working in the limited space he has available, the kind of pieces he turns out can't be made at the rate of a couple hundred a day -- more like a dozen or two at most. Making one of those chandeliers you like takes two or three gaffers working with eight or ten supporting people several days, yet there are only 80 to 100 fairly simple pieces in each one.

There are a lot of people who hate Chihuly's success, and I happen to think his paintings are stupid, while what he does with glass (huge glass, much bigger than anything you will find at Neiman's) is neat, yet the paintings began as a way of communicating to his workers what color effect he wanted in the glass.  

Mike Firth
Dallas

Film star: Here are two stories that show the kind of person Dale Chihuly is:

He was on NPR's Fresh Air, and the intro he provided said that he started the Studio Glass Movement. We all know that this is a lie and he was not even there until later.

A story told to me by another glass artist is that when he was filming at Harvey Littleton's studio, the film proposed to Harvey was roughly Dale & Harvey Blow Glass Together. When the film was done, all the Chihuly interviews about how important Harvey was were edited out. Now it's just Harvey Thinks Dale Is the Best. See the film for yourself.

A little honesty goes a long way in my book.

Tim Lewis
Weaverville, North Carolina

Boathouse beauties: One always sees a glass as half full or half empty. I personally found Chihuly's exhibit "overflowing." The ethereal beauty of the glass can bring art lovers to their knees. I not only love the glass but also find the drawings a beautiful complement.

As for the artist's demeanor, I take offense at the reviewer's slanted statements. My daughter and I recently went to Seattle to visit the Chihuly studio known as The Boathouse. We have no money, so we were not being courted for our wallet. We found the entire staff extremely happy in their positions, and everyone had a genuine admiration for their boss. I never saw any disgruntled employees, and I was given free rein to roam wherever I liked.

Wherever my daughter and I went in Seattle, the attitudes were the same. Seattle loves Chihuly and is proud of its "native son." I am so embarrassed for the city of Houston. How can we play host to such an incredible artist and then allow one art-illiterate reviewer to berate his work?

I have always been a staunch supporter of the Houston Press, and I respect your opinions, but I hope you will take another look at this incredible work before making a decision for the entire city. Chihuly is an icon in the world of glass. He has worked hard to get to where he is today, and he has never forgotten his roots.

Before the reviewer starts casting stones, she should be aware of the beauty of the glass that is on display.

Janet Knape
Alvin

Cheap Art

MFA's a real deal: John Devine's suggestion that $17 to view the impressionist exhibits being shown at the MFAH is "expensive" makes one wonder where his priorities lie ["Manet, Monet, Money," November 28]. A general admission concert ticket is now $75, movie tickets hover at $10, and the circus peanut gallery is about $13.

The price is pretty much in line with the general milieu and certainly cheaper than a trip to the Louvre in Paris. It should be mentioned that a $60, two-person, year-long membership at the Museum of Fine Arts entitles the members to admission to all exhibits all year long, free art classes two or three times a week, free movies that cannot be found on other screens, members-only parties, family days full of all sorts of entertainment and lectures.

As a single mother, the museum has afforded me and my daughter countless hours of quality educational entertainment on weekends that has rounded off to a whopping $2.50 per person a week. It's the best-kept entertainment secret in Houston. I challenge John Devine to find a better family entertainment value anywhere.

Susan Modikoane
Houston


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