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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bias in Reporting

Honest Writing, not Biased

I’m constantly amazed at how columnists of different cultures can get away with accusing those who disagree with them of bias, a reprehensible behavior many of them are pulling off with every word they write.

I don’t know if they perceive their slant, their view, to be biased or not. To
compound the problem, many of them do not understand some of the subjects of which they write.

One, a national columnist who is Hispanic, took on President Obama’s speech to school kids, but in doing so, he revealed his own lack of expertise in the realm of education, a lack of expertise shared not only many columnists, but most legislators.

As in many of his columns, he displayed Hispanic bias. Now, you can call it ‘cultural pride’, ‘Latino experience’ or ‘Hispanic histronics’, or whatever, but bias is bias is bias.

I read the speech. While I disagree with much of the president’s agenda, I saw nothing wrong with his speech.

I did agree with the columnist when he suggested throwing money at education did not automatically improve it. He continued by remarking that some of the highest funded schools in the country are the worst while some charter schools are accomplishing much more with less funding. Why? Greater autonomy and flexibility.

He’s right. Throwing money at education doesn’t make kids smarter.

I could only shake my head when the writer put the blame for black student failure on teachers by claiming that many teachers have a lot of trouble imagining black American students as being high achievers. I don’t know what he meant by ‘many’. I do know of all the hundreds of teachers with whom I taught over a lifetime, I could count on one hand the type of whom he spoke. But, however you cut the deck, so few could not have created the dreadful problems so many black communities today face as he stated.

The suggestion is made that parents ask the schools why their low-achieving kids (of all races) are being short-changed. I think that’s a great idea, although not in the way he intended. I like it because in order to ask the question, those parents will have to get off their lazy tails and up to school. (fat chance)

Perhaps if the columnist had more experience in pedagogy, he would not have permitted the current federal administration to lead him by the nose when it suggested education reform by ‘charter schools, merit pay, greater accountability, etc.’

First time I heard that nonsense was in the days of Mark White—Jeez, how long ago was that, a century?

To begin, merit pay is simply a shaggy dog story!

What unbiased instrument will be used to determine which schools or teachers receive extra pay? Who will evaluate? A robot?

Years back, Texas tried such a plan. Many of us remember it as a joke, a senseless effort by state legislators to justify teacher raises.

The plan had supervisors evaluating teachers under them, teachers with whom they had worked for years. So, take a wild guess at the results.

There is no fair and impartial means to determine merit pay just as there is no way to establish fair and impartial guidelines for accountability. Testing can’t measure school quality. All it simply measures is which districts spent more time teaching the test.

Perhaps the closest thing to it is coaching. Win or die. And that’s pretty harsh, gambling a career on sixteen- to eighteen-year-olds.

How would you pull off that little miracle in an English classroom? When the columnist, or President Obama, or Education Secretary Arne Duncan find out, I wish they’d let me know.

I’ve seen thousands of kids go through school, and ninety-nine percent of them who do well have support at home. And yes, many of the homes were one-parent, but that one parent supported, disciplined, and loved the kid.

I have no idea how to solve so many of the problems that plague youngsters in deteriorating communities, but whatever the answers might be, parental love, discipline, and involvement has to be at the very top.

rconwell@gt.rr.com
www.kentconwell.blogspot.com

Great American Novel

The Great American Novel
Have you ever dreamed of writing the ‘Great American Novel’? No? How about an Academy Award for a screenplay?

I once heard that there is a best selling novel in every person. The secret is to get it into print. We all dream, but you have to work to make the dream a reality.
And it is much simpler to do than you might imagine. You just go out and do it. That’s what I mean by simple. Now, I didn’t say easier. I said simpler. In some uses, simple and easy might be synonymous, but not in this case.

Over the years, I’ve had aspiring writers call and ask how to go about it. That’s the big problem, that first step.

Well, if you’re interested in any kind of writing, the next few months should give
you the jump-start you need.

Twenty-five years ago, I read a news release about a Romance Writers’ Group meeting at the old Hilton on I-10.

The speaker was Robert Vaughn. I had no idea who he was, and I wasn’t particularly interested in getting hooked up with a bunch of flighty romance writers.

My wife and I talked it over. I think it only cost ten bucks or so for all day, so I went. Simple as that.

Robert Vaughn was remarkable. The romance writers were extraordinary.
I wrote my first women’s thriller from the information I garnered that day. Now, it’s never been published, but that few hours provided me the impetus to get off my keister and do what I had been prattling about for the last twelve or thirteen years.

That organization is now the Golden Triangle Writers’ Guild. And if you’re interested, it meets the second Tuesday at 7:30 pm at Barnes & Noble out at Parkdale.

And what’s really nice is that once a year in October, the Guild hosts a writer’s conference, bringing in writers, agents, and editors from around the country.
This year the conference is at the MGM Elegante from October 22-24. For more information, go to the web site, gtwg.org or contact D.J. Resnick at kdwriters@yahoo.com.

There’s something there for everyone. Song-writing, mystery, suspense, romance, thrillers, action-adventure, poetry, forensics--over thirty presenters will be here for those three days.

In addition, Lamar University Continuing Education is offering a series of non-credit writing courses both online and on campus. They offer them each spring and fall.

There are several from which to choose: article writing; teen writing; how to write fiction; novel writing, and several others. Go the ‘The Write Site’ at Lamar Continuing Education. Instructors are experienced writers such as D.J. Resnick, Jessica Ferguson, Carol A. Thomas, Jessica Burkhart, and yours truly.

Yes, I shamelessly admit that I teach a short six-week course in the spring and fall titled ‘Writing the Novel.’ It is a hand’s on course where students actually write parts of the novel so we can critique in class.

By the end of the six-week period, many students have written the beginning, the end, and outlined the middle of the book.

As I mentioned earlier, the biggest problem with writing is to figure out that first step. In addition, grammar, format, and submission methods are discussed.

Nothing turns an editor or agent off like poorly constructed sentences and grammatical errors. You might have the greatest story ever told, that legendary ‘Great American Novel’, but if the editor can’t get past the first few pages because of poor writing, it will make no matter. Today, we’re fortunate to have spell check, which catches the majority of these errors—but not all.

If you’re interested in more information about any of the writing classes at Lamar, go to www.lulearn.net’writesite or contact Rhonda at 880-2233.

There’s a lot of myths about writing, and either at the conference or the writing classes, you’ll have many of them dispelled.

So, if you’ve ever had the itch to write, the next few months can scratch it for you.


rconwell@gt.rr.com
www.kentconwell.blogspot.com