Olla podrida — a Mulligan stew of issues deserving a look

April 15, 2007

Where do Ed Brayton and P. Z. Myers find the time to blog so much?

Here are some things that deserve consideration, that I’ve not had time to consider.

Dallas is only #2 on the national allergy list#1 is Tulsa.   This is a ranking one wishes to lose.

The Texas Senate passed a bill to change the current state-mandated test for high school students. Tests are not a panacea, and the current structure seems to be doing more damage than good, in dropout rates, and especially in learning.  What will take the place of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS)?  No one knows, yet.  Much work to do — but there is widespread understanding that TAKS is not doing much of what was hoped.

Incentive pay for teachers:  Despite a cantakerous and troubled roll-out in Houston’s schools, and despite widespread discontent with the execution of incentive pay programs that appear to miss their targets of rewarding good teachers who teach their students will, Texas has identified 1,132 schools in the state that are eligible for the next phase of the $100 million teacher incentive program.   Some administrators think that, no matter how a program misfires, they can’t change it once they’ve started it.  ‘Stay the course, no matter the damage,’ seems to be the battle cry.  (And you wondered where Bush got the idea?)

Saving historic trains:  History and train advocates saved the Texas State Railroad earlier this year; now they want $12 million to upgrade the engines, cars and tracks, to make the thing a more valuable tourist attraction and history classroom.  Texas has spent a decade abusing and underfunding its once-outstanding state park system.  Citizens are fighting back.

Maybe you know more?

Useful serendipity – cilantro

April 15, 2007

Cilantro makes a great substitute for watercress in sesame noodles. In Utah and Maryland we found watercress relatively easy to get — pick some up at the supermarket, or in Utah, stop along one of the mountain streams and pick it (not in the National Forest or National Park lands, of course). Down here in Texas, watercress isn’t as easy to come by. Coriander sativum, from UCLA Biomedical Library

Cilantro, on the other hand, is readily available.

Cilantro is also known as Chinese parsley, and as coriander. The herb is originally known from Greece, but is now grown almost world wide, and is a staple in Oriental and Southwest cuisines.

In your social studies classes, are you talking about spices or the spice trade? The Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library at UCLA has some excellent images and solid information on spices, their use and importance.

Interactive disaster maps for geography

April 15, 2007

Would tracking disasters add more than a little interest to your geography units?

Cliotech, a blog by a Pennsylvania social studies teacher, gives pointers to Alertmap, a group based in Budapest (hey, that’s a geography lesson right there!). Alertmap charts disasters — fires, floods, earthquakes, etc. — and what student is not interested in disaster?

Be careful not to unnecessarily scare students — but do point out that the world is full of danger, and natural and man-made disasters continue to plague mankind the world over.

True story: Yellow Rose of Texas, and the Battle of San Jacinto

April 15, 2007

After suffering crushing defeats in previous battles, and while many Texian rebels were running away from Santa Anna’s massive army — the largest and best trained in North America — Sam Houston’s ragtag band of rebels got the drop on Santa Anna at San Jacinto, on April 21, 1836. Most accounts say the routing of Santa Anna’s fighting machine took just 18 minutes.

San Jacinto Day is April 21. Texas history classes at Texas middle schools should be leading ceremonies marking the occasion — but probably won’t since it’s coming at the end of a week of federally-requested, state required testing.

Surrender of Santa Anna, Texas State Preservation Board Surrender of Santa Anna, painting by William Henry Huddle (1890); property of Texas State Preservation Board. The painting depicts Santa Anna being brought before a wounded Sam Houston, to surrender.

San Jacinto Monument brochure, with photo of monument

The San Jacinto Monument is 15 feet taller than the Washington Monument

How could Houston’s group have been so effective against a general who modeled himself after Napoleon, with a large, well-running army? In the 1950s a story came out that Santa Anna was distracted from battle. Even as he aged he regarded himself as a great ladies’ man — and it was a woman who detained the Mexican general in his tent, until it was too late to do anything but steal an enlisted man’s uniform and run.

That woman was mulatto, a “yellow rose,” and about whom the song, “The Yellow Rose of Texas” was written, according story pieced together in the 1950s.

Could such a story be true? Many historians in the 1950s scoffed at the idea. (More below the fold.) Read the rest of this entry »

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