A postcard from Germany

from the San Francisco Chronicle:

The Gelsenkirchen soccer stadium has two other names, but to me, it is the Homer Dome, after the patron saint of beer enjoyment, Herr Simpson.

The stadium is the site of two breathtaking marvels of German engineering: the playing pitch and the beer-circulation system.

For World Cup play, the city’s 53,000-seat stadium is Arena Aufschalke, because it is home of the Shalke ’04 pro team. During regular Bundesliga play, the place reverts to its beer-sponsor name, Veltins-Arena.

The grass is phenomenal, as green and precisely clipped as that of Wimbledon or Augusta National. The stadium is partially roofed, not healthy for grass, but the entire field slides out the back of the stadium on rails, like a 2-acre cookie tin sliding out of the oven, so the grass can photosynthesize to its heart’s content.

But here’s the coolest part:

There are four gigantic beer vats under the grandstands, each holding and cooling about 13,000 liters of fresh brewski. Snaking from the tanks to the concession-stand taps and luxury suites is a 5-kilometer network of insulated pipes, rushing cold, fresh Veltins beer to the thirsty coal-miner fans.

Alas, World Cup cups here in Gelsenkirchen will not runneth over with sweet Veltins. The system is shut down because the Cup’s official beer is Budweiser.

The eighth wonder of the world will not be in operation this month. A moment of silence, please.

Trip to Wisconsin

I just got back from my first business trip in my new job. I went to a sales meeting (as part of the marketing team) in Rice Lake and Hayward, Wisconsin. I flew into Minneapolis and drove through a very rural part of Northwest Wisconsin. Several of the towns I drove through had populations of 500.

Since it was lunchtime and I was looking for something to eat, it seemed like a town needed a population of at least 2000 before it had anything resembling commerce (gas station, restaurant). I stopped at a Cheese Shop (there are many of these in Wisconsin) that was also an Italian Deli for a sandwich of Italian meats and cheese. I sat and ate my lunch outside and watched several red-winged blackbirds fly around the pond.

I made it to the meeting at the tail end of Tuesday’s presentations, but I was in time for the pontoon boat scavenger hunt. We had to find a lily pad, catch a fish, identify drinks at two of the lakeside bars, dance in a Conga line, as well as many other things. The boat I was on won by 10 points. We all got T-shirts at the restaurant we ate dinner at, the original Famous Dave’s BBQ.

The next day, we had more meetings, we drove back to the client’s facility and stopped off at Miller’s Cheese Shop for some 2 year aged Cheddar before heading back to Minneapolis. I flew out the next morning.

Children’s Domain Names

On the same day that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie had their baby (this past Saturday), Jolie’s lawyers registered the baby’s “official” domain name: shilohnouveljoliepitt.com. This made me want to check the availability of domain names for my kids. Both full names dot com are available. I guess I should snap them up. They are only 6.95/year on GoDaddy (with the code Hash3 from a podcast GoDaddy sponsors).

Breakfast Al Fresco

This morning I made french toast (or is it Freedom Toast) for breakfast and we ate outside on the deck. There is a brief period when the temperature is just right to eat outside, the sun is behind the trees and the bugs haven’t come out yet. At the start of breakfast, we were in that sweet spot. As we ate our french toast (the best in the world, but not according to Grace), it started to get warmer and we went inside.

Meg wants to get an oscillating fan so we can have a breeze when we sit on the deck.

My Writing Professor Publishes New Book

My writing professor from Duke, Elizabeth Cox, has a new book out this summer, The Slow Moon, published by Random House. This is her fourth published novel. It is a story about a violent incident in the life of a young couple and how the town responds. It will probably have some extra resonance in the wake of the Duke Lacrosse incident.
Here’s the page on the Random House site
Here’s an old interview
Here’s her outdated web site
Here’s her course page at Bennington, where she teaches a graduate course
Here’s a Boston Globe article from Wofford College’s site, where she teaches now.

Spalding Gray “Returns”

from the New York Times:

When Spalding Gray committed suicide, most likely by throwing himself off a Staten Island ferry on a cold January day nearly two and half years ago, he left behind an array of grievers: fans, colleagues, friends and family. People were stunned by the loss of this unusual performer, a man who had been artfully befriending audiences through his confessional monologues since 1977. But Mr. Gray’s family — his wife, Kathie Russo; his stepdaughter, Marissa, now 19; and his 9- and 12-year-old sons, Theo and Forrest — had to face a different tragedy: the disappearance of a husband and father. Ms. Russo was suddenly left to keep their family together as well as to shape her own unexpected legacy as Spalding Gray’s widow.

“I wanted to do something around Spalding’s 65th birthday, which is on June 5,” Ms. Russo, 45, recently explained at a Greek restaurant in the West Village. “So I thought, ‘Let’s do a reading of his work for one night at P.S. 122’ — that’s where he started all his monologues — ‘and I’ll put it together.’ “

Continue to NY Times Web site

Too much standardized testing

Peter does not begin End of Grade (EOG) testing until 3rd Grade (next year), but the point is still well taken.

from Today’s Chapel Hill News:

Test obsession denies students real education
By BOB BROGDEN

I can go to Raleigh-Durham airport, get on a plane and be in Portland, Oregon in six hours. I can get in my car and drive to Portland in six days. Or I can get on my bicycle and ride to Portland in six weeks.

I ask you by which method do you think I will gain the most lasting knowledge about my country and its history? I know the answer, because I have done the trip all three ways.

The North Carolina curriculum for U.S. history is a mile wide and an inch deep. What students learn about U.S. history amounts to a fly-over or a high-speed cruise down an interstate highway.

This is no way to teach or learn U.S. history. And we wonder why students do so poorly on U.S. history tests.

Our national, state and local political and education leaders judge students’ knowledge of U.S. history based on their scores on a 100-item multiple choice test. And teachers had better make sure their students are proficient, for that is how teachers and schools will be judged. Teachers will teach to the test and students will be forced into endless drilling for these tests. Anybody who tells you that this is not the case obviously does not spend much, if any, time in the classroom.

This year I have a wonderful group of students in my U.S. History class. They ask probing, inquisitive questions and make comments that reflect intellectual engagement.

Questions asked this year include, “Did Hitler get mad at the Japanese for bombing Pearl Harbor and bringing the U.S. into the war?” and “Why did FDR drop his vice-president in the 1944 election and select Truman as his running mate?”

When we discussed how Lincoln and FDR, two of our greatest presidents, were vilified while they were in office, one student asked, “How will history judge President Bush?” A rather lively discussion followed.

I doubt these questions will be on the end-of-course test.

I am writing this before these students take their state-mandated end-of-course test. Regardless of their scores on this test, they rank as some of the best history students I have had in my 21 years of teaching. And because they ask so many questions we will not get all the way through the curriculum. I even had to stop doing the hands-on activities that I have done for years because of the pressure to get those scores up.

If we truly want our students to be lifelong learners of U.S. history we should reduce the scope of the curriculum. This would allow time for students to research and write, have debates and discussions, complete art projects, create PowerPoint presentations, take field trips, and participate in activities that will enhance their love and appreciation of the subject. I’m all for accountability, but let’s use curriculum and assessments that are relevant and realistic.

This inane obsession with testing is driven by people who are far removed from daily contact and interaction with students. They only judge students, teachers and schools by test scores.

Students in any class should develop a lifelong love and appreciation of that subject. Teaching to a test does much to undermine that. Those that continue to advocate for judging students, teachers, and schools based on test scores are engaged in educational malpractice.

And next year, because of a new schedule in my district, I’ll have even less time to teach this same curriculum

Bob Brogden teaches history at East Chapel Hill High School.