The Strange Holiday Mix, 2017

This is my idea of an annual tradition: a collection of the holiday-related songs I can stand to have on heavy rotation over the next month or so. As opposed to the traditional playlist of earworms that even the programmers at Muzak must be embarrassed to let loose on the world.

But regardless of your musical tastes, and whatever you are celebrating this time of year, enjoy!

  1. Strangest Christmas Yet – Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers
  2. Christmas Coming Home (feat. Lennon & Maisy) – Nashville Cast
  3. To Christmas! (The Drinking Song) – Straight No Chaser
  4. Christmas Is the Time – Katharine McPhee
  5. Naughty Naughty Children (Better Start Actin’ Nice) – Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
  6. Santa Claus Is Comin’ (In A Boogie Woogie Choo Choo Train) – The Tractors
  7. Warmer in the Winter (feat. Trombone Shorty) – Lindsey Stirling
  8. Santa Stole Thanksgiving – Jimmy Buffett
  9. Feels Like Christmas (feat. Jana Kramer) – Straight No Chaser
  10. Santa Claus, Santa Claus – Dennis Turner
  11. California Christmastime – Rachel Bloom, Vincent Rodriguez III, and the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Cast (the video)
  12. Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’ – Bill Kirchen & Austin de Lone
  13. They Don’t Make Them Like That Anymore – Great Lake Swimmers
  14. Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me) – Davina & The Vagabonds
  15. Santa, My First Love – Swear And Shake
  16. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy – Lindsey Stirling
  17. Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy – The Tractors
  18. Baby Don’t Leave Me (All Alone on Christmas) – Echosmith
  19. Schedryk – Pink Martini
  20. The Way-Too-Early Christmas Song – Paul and Storm

Digitally Faulty

From the Washington Post’s Grade Point blog we have a list of “five critical skills every new college graduate should have”. It begins with

Every graduate needs to be “digitally aware.” Students entering college and the workforce now often are referred to as “digital natives” because they were raised on technology from a very young age.

And stop right there.

Anyone still using the “digital native-digital immigrant” trope is, at the very least, being intellectually lazy. As with many other concepts about people, especially kids, that phrase is a binary, either-or shortcut that excuses the writer from the responsibility of explaining the complexity of the subject, and their readers from having to understand it.

Being “raised on technology from a very young age” does not convey the expertise implied by calling them “natives”. For those kids who have easy access to digital devices and networks growing up (which excludes large numbers of children, even in the US), most acquire a comfort level with the tools that connect them to their friends and personal interests. They are not computing geniuses – or “hackers” when a negative slant is needed.

For most students, their “native” digital skills don’t automatically translate into using the technology tools for learning skills needed to live in the broader world. They still need parents and teachers to guide them in those areas.

Continuing in the same brief section, the writer also leans on another, more recent, flawed assumption about the needs of graduates, from both college and high school.

It’s no longer good enough to know how to use a computer. Understanding the programming language behind the apps on your iPhone, or the basics of Artificial Intelligence are all now seen as basic foundational skills by many employers. Learning to program is much like learning a second language was in the 20th century: You might not become proficient enough to move overseas, but you could get by if you traveled to a particular country.

I’d love to see some statistics about the “many employers” who see programming as a “basic foundational skill”. Plenty of politicians, business-types, and other education experts, tell us that kids need to learn to code. The president is asking for $4 billion to provide computer programming classes for all students in K12, without a clear definition of why it’s that important.

And equating learning to program with learning to speak a second language is yet another lazy, not to mention very wrong, shortcut. Beyond both being classes offered in many high schools, the two require different skill sets and processes in the brain. But it’s probably not as bad as equating coding with being able to read and write in your native language.

Ok, so the writer goes on to present his four other “critical” skills for graduates, but that first one is bad enough. I really don’t want to waste time on figuring out how one becomes a “learning animal”, or explain why lacking the ability to “navigate through life without a syllabus” is a failure of their schools, not the graduate.

The Strange Holiday Mix, 2015

The annual list of holiday songs now in heavy rotation on my phone. Lots of odd, fun stuff, with some sorta traditional music mixed in. Think of it as my own personal war on Christmas. :-)

1. Winter Wonderland / Don’t Worry Be Happy – Pentatonix (feat. Tori Kelly)
2. I Feel It In My Bones – The Killers (feat. Ryan Pardey)
3. Christmas In Heaven – Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life
4. Blue Christmas – Michael Bublé
5. Christmas Wish – She & Him
6. Everyday Is Christmas – Straight No Chaser (feat. Colbie Caillat)
7. (Everybody’s Waitin’ For) The Man With the Bag – Seth MacFarlane
8. The Santa Claus Boogie – The Tractors
9. Santa, Teach Me to Dance – Debbie & The Darnels
10. Yabba-Dabba Yuletide – The Brian Setzer Orchestra
11. More Than I Wished For – Schuyler Fisk
12. Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree – She & Him
13. Let’s Ditch Christmas – Jeremy Messersmith
14. You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch – Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
15. The Christmas Song – The Raveonettes
16. Dirt Sledding – The Killers (feat. Ryan Pardey & Richard Dreyfuss)
17. Christmas At Ground Zero – Weird Al Yankovic
18. Christmas Blues – Canned Heat

Whatever you are celebrating this time of year, enjoy.

Stuff That Needs To Go

MindShift recently posted “10 Things in School That Should Be Obsolete“, and managed to come up with a good, mostly different collection than those found on dozens of similar lists.

A couple were rather odd (Dark, indoor gyms? Large restrooms?), and I certainly can't argue with eliminating computer labs since I've ranted about that topic several times in this space.

However, two of the items mentioned are not only obsolete, their continued existence is also a major impediment to any meaningful high school reform.

2. LEARNING IN PRESCRIBED PLACES. When you ask people to remember a meaningful learning experience from high school, chances are the experience didn’t take place in a space designed for learning. Working in groups, while on a trip, while doing a project or learning while talking with friends – those are the lasting, meaningful learning experiences. Yet we don’t design schools to accommodate these activities and focus only on the formal spaces.

5. DEPARTMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS. In order to break down the size of schools and to allow students to learn across curriculum, it’s essential to organize schools so that teachers of various subjects are located together. This not only emulates how people work today — in collaborative groups — but encourages teachers to consider students holistically, not only as they perform in a specific subject.

Throwing out number four, isolated classrooms, as well provides a great start to creating those “21st century schools” we've been talking about since before the turn of the previous century.

Digging Into The Numbers

How can a parent judge if one high school is better than another?  According to a New York Times article from this weekend, there are a “daunting” number of high profile rankings of the best US high schools published this time of year to help them make that determination.

As a public service to aid “anxious consumers”, the writer sets about to analyze one of those lists in order to understand how anyone could “quantify something as complex and nuanced as a high-quality education”.

Sorry, “challenge” index fans. He chose the one from Newsweek.

The writer does a great job of picking apart their system and it’s worth reading the whole thing.

But for this rant, let’s just cut to the bottom line. Where are the best schools?

Want the best high schools for your child? Move to Texas or Florida. Texas has 15 of the 100 best, placing second over all nationwide, while Florida has 10, the fourth most.

Read that again: 25% of the 100 best high schools in the country are in Texas and Florida.

This is no doubt due in good part to the reform efforts of George W. and Jeb Bush, who – like Newsweek – have made standardized test results a true measure of academic excellence.

That would be my guess.

At all costs, avoid Scarsdale, N.Y. It didn’t even make the top 1,000. Though its average SAT score of 1935 would rank it 21st among the 100 best, the school does not offer A.P. courses, and Newsweek counts A.P. data as 40 percent of the rating.

No AP courses??? I know someone who would consider that child abuse.

However, forget about the quality of Newsweek’s selection process. There’s another, far more important bottom line to consider in their decision to publish a Best American High School list (not to mention the Post’s multiple annual floggings of the “challenge”).

Given that magazines and newspapers are bleeding to death, this is the only plausible justification I can think of: Lists are cash cows.

End of story.