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Oh, Fiddlesticks: Hitting the books

March 1, 2013
By Ted Rowe , Marshall Independent

The Academy Awards will have taken place by the time of the publication of this column even though I am writing it before the awards have been announced. I guess I wasn't paying too much attention to what was happening in the movie world when I suggested last fall to my book club that we should read a classic and I suggested "Anna Karenina" by Leo Tolstoy. So it is on our reading list for May.

Last year we had Tolstoy's "War and Peace" on our reading list. Unfortunately, not many in our group were able to finish reading it due possibly to its length, but more probably to the "cast of thousands" each often with two or three nicknames by which they were referred in the tome. Of course most of the names were Russian ending in sky or ov and often difficult to pronounce with many consonants together without separating vowels. Tolstoy's writing also had many diversions into philosophical questions.

About a month ago, I proceeded to our library to see if it had a copy of "Anna." I dutifully signed in to the computer catalog and "Anna" was listed, but searching the fiction shelves was not successful. I had to ask where the "browse" section was that was indicated as the book's location. I found the copy on a shelf next to the fireplace - a beautifully bound book in what I believe is faux leather embossed with "gold" designs and printing. Seven hundred fifty-seven pages of small print!

"Anna" has now been my bedside companion for the past month and by the time this column is published I will have finished reading it. Compare that time to the usual three or four days to read most other paperback mysteries and novels that I normally read. It is fortuitous that I may now get the chance to compare what Tolstoy wrote to how it is portrayed in the movie that has been praised for telling the love story with period costuming that may win one of those Oscars.

It remains to be seen whether my book club group will settle for the movie rather than struggling through the book, but I have enjoyed the reading and suspect that there is much more in the book than what will be portrayed on the screen.


Believing that reading is an important skill, I have been intrigued by a debate going on in Minnesota over the Basic Skills Test for teachers that requires all teachers to pass a test before becoming licensed to teach in Minnesota. It used to be that teachers needed to pass a Basic Skills Test either before or within three years after completing other teaching licensure requirements. That was changed to having to pass the Basic Skills Test BEFORE getting their license. Now there is a movement to do away with the test altogether.

One sizable group of teachers of foreign languages who teach using full immersion in the language are claiming that they need exemption as they could not be expected to pass the "English" reading and writing portion, but they are excellent teachers of a foreign language. Being somewhat a cynic I would have to wonder if those teachers had been immersed in English wouldn't that method have given them enough background to pass a Basic Skills Test in reading and writing? If not, then is there something wrong with the method or is there something wrong with the test?

There have been other teachers who have testified that they are great teachers but had to take the test multiple times before they could pass it.

While I would tend to support maintaining a standard for Basic Skills, one of the most troubling facts about the current test results is that there is a huge gap between "Caucasians" versus "Hispanics" and "Blacks" in terms of who passes the test. It is roughly three times as likely for a "Caucasian" to pass than it is for the non-Caucasian.


Reading, Writing, Mathematics. Readin,' Writin,' 'Rithmetic. Seems to have been the mantra for education for ever. Having spent more than four decades teaching to the third portion of this triumvirate, I nevertheless have always held as essential the first two parts - necessary for communication, necessary for an understanding of the world around us, of the people around us. An absence of good writing and an absence of an ability to read (and comprehend the written word) may be much more important than the third part.


Somewhat coincidental to the Basic Skills, I heard an interview on the radio the other day where the interviewee said something like, "I was shooken up." Communication was not a problem with that phrase. I understood clearly what the interviewee was expressing. But I did cringe a little.

I also cringe a little when I hear, "Where's it at?" instead of "Where is it?" I don't like the use of, "We've got to go" when, "We have to go" will do. One other case that I used to hear now and then as a teacher was, "Will you borrow me a pencil?" instead of "Will you loan me a pencil?"

Until next time: Oh, Fiddlesticks!



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